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THE HARPER MEMORIAL.

Wi AN AFTERNOON WITH THE :3ia SCULPTOR.

[From Our London Correspondent.]

Born and bred in Bishop Harper's diocese, confirmed by him in phe college chapel, revering him from my earliest days, I accepted with alacrity Mr Kennaway's invitation to accompany him to the studio of Mr J. F. Williamson, the sculptor of the Harper Memorial, to inspect the recumbent figure of the first Primate of New Zealand. The studio ib situated in the centre of the picturesque old-fashioned village of Eaher, and on our way we pass the quaint hostelry The Bear, its red walls covered with creepers, its windows bright with flowers, its roof supporting two be*rs. A few steps further on we enter a low-browed, square-windowed, low-ceilinged little house and meet our host, a tall, grey-whiskered, genial-faced, elderly man, who leads us without delay into his work room, where our former bishop lay Bleeping in "dull cold marble."

Although Mr Williamson had only photographs to guide him, he has been very successful is his work, and produced a striking likeness, which appealed to all of us. He has, wisely I think, depicted Bishop Hatper as he looked some twenty years or so before his death—his well-cut features full of decision and vigor. To those whose recollection is of the latest years of the bishop, when he was somewhat enfeebled by age, the sculpture may appear to portray too young a man, but it is best that the effigy by which hia memory is to be perpetuated should represent him in the prime of his life, when hia character was most strongly exhibited in hia countenance. The deceased Frimate is lying in his robes on a marble couch, his left hand clasping his episcopal cross, his right resting on his breast; his head is slightly inclined to the left, the eyes closed in sleep. As we look at the figure the likeness grows upon us. The best point' of view is from the right-hand side ef the monument where the profile is most prominently seen, the broad brow, strong aquiline nose, and firm lips forming a speaking likeness. Mr Williamson tells me that, according to his instructions, the memorial is to be placed with its right Bide to the wall. All of us were of opinion that thi3 would be a great mistake, and that the figure should be so situated that people could walk round it and examine it from different points of view. If the right side is against the wall, the most striking view of our revered Primate, which will appeal, most strongly to tho3e who know him in his prime, will be entirely lost. A few finishing touches on the cross and robes and the memorial "will be oomplete. " £ expect," said Mr Williamson, "to be able to send it off next week. Yes, it requires some car*,for the block of marble weighs seven tons, but we don't pack it in the usual way, but build it in with strut?, so that you may turn the case over and stand it on its head without injuring the figure. For the robes lam indebted to the late Bishop of Wakefield, who composed the Jubilee Hymn. The marble ? It's called Sioilian, but comes from Carrara, for there's not an inch of marble in Sicily. But come into this room and look at the model."

He takes ua into an inner room, where, amidst a mass of plaster figures, We behold a somewhat dingy-looking original 'of the memorial we have just left. "You see," continued Mr Williamson, "your bishop, curiously enough, is alongside the bishop of anoiher Ohriatohurch Christchurch Darwin." A dainty little figure of Titania reclining in the centre of a large fern, whose leaves curl over her, appears to be suffering from smallpox, being pitted with numerous little holes. These holes, Mr vVilliamson explains, are drilled so as to correspond with the measurements of the original in plaster, and when his assistant has chipped away the maible to the bottom of these small holes the master's hand begins its work. A Jubilee bust of the Queen is lyiDg in the Bam? condition. V The Queen has just been sitting to me for that bust ; it is the last she will sit for. Ode is going to India, and one to Ireland, but I expect that I shall have to repeat it. One of my sculptures I had to repeat as many as thirteen times." Mr Williamson is par exceilente sculptor to the Queen and the Royal Family. He has executed busts and statues of all its members except the Prince of Wales, who, being so busy, has never been able to give him enough sittings, but whom he hopes to perpetuate in marble next Christmas. The studio is "full of Royalties, even to Prince Edward of York crawling on all fours with a little Punchinello tightly clasped in one hand. Mr Williamson tells us a pretty, story of the way in which he held the infant Prince on one arm, modelling him with the other, soothing the child's restlessness by the occasional production of sweetmeats from his jacket. A colossal statue, painted bronze color, of the Queen, erect and dignified, sceptre in hand, next arrests our attention. " That is the bronze statue of the Qaeen," explains Mr Williamson, " I made for the Rangoon people in 1887. I got the idea for that position some time before when I wa9 at Osborne. I was on the terrace with some of the Ministers watching the Queen standing at the open door. Oae of the Ministers said something to her, and she at once drew herself up to her full height and stood in such a dignified attitude, so," and Mr Williamson suited the action to the word, "and I said to myself: ' Well, your Majesty, if ever I have to make a statue of you it shall be in that position,' little thinking that some day I should have to put my.idea into, practice." Imperial and impressive the attitude certainly is, and must have satisfied the Rangoon people, particular as they were about the Bceptre. " They would have that sceptre," says Mr Williamson with a twinkle in his eye. "I intended at first that the Queen should have a fan in her hand, but they wouldn't take the statue without a sceptre." " They wouldn't accept her without,',' interjects one of us. "Precisely. Oh, what a time I had to get that sceptre !" says Mr Williamson in comic despiir, and forthwith gives us a most dramatic representation of his visit to the Tower and "the formalities and ceremonies connected with the unlocking of the cage in which the regalia are kept and the handing of the sceptre to him to model. Many royal possessions have passed through Mr Williamson's hands—the small crown and numerous jewels, including the famous Kohinoor.

Laid on the shelf is the head of a judge in flowing wig. "That's Lord Esher, Master of the-Bolls," proceeds our guide; philosopher, and friend ; " but he's not laid on the shelf yet, although his monument's in the churchyard here. I must tell you about that. I was making a monument for his son,. Lieutenant Brett, who died of fever soon after his return from the Egyptian campaign. The Judge said to me one day: 'I think I may as *well erect a monument to myself while I'm alive. No one else will when I'm dead.| I told his lordship I quite agreed with him. 'We'll have Lady Eaher too,' saigl-he,.' 'and we'll be lying side by side.' Wellj : I hadf several: sittings, and did a recumbent figure of Lord Esher, but I could

noirget his wife to sit to me, '• Never mind "about her consent/said Lord Esherwhenltold him; TH give you a photograph, and .you patt just make a pretty woman of her.I've no objection to going down to posterity by the; side of a pretty woman !' So I. made a pretty woman of her, and carved the two lying side by side." At last we overcame her ladyship's scrupled, who didn't like to have Her iflalble counterfeit put up until she was diead, and the monument was erected in the churchyard. For some, time \hey used to go and put wreaths on their own monument, but I had to stop them from doing that, as the wreathß discolored the marble." Passingvby a number of nobodies, crowds of whom Mr Williamson tells us he has had to break.up, we take a lastlook of the pegoefu!js£are of ou>- old bishop, the sunshine. !'l> a \ ia up his quiet countenance, aud pass but into the trim little garden, where the leavesare glistening with the shower that has just fallen. Claremout, once the property] of Lord Clive, where Princess Charlotte and Leopold, late King of the Belgians, lived, and which was afterwards assigned as a residenoe to Louis Phillippe and his wife, lies just at the back of the garden, and Mr Williamson used to have a step ladder over the garden wall, so that the Duke of AlbanyL dropped in whenever he felt inclined. We pass from the garden into a sort of show room crammed full of groups, medallions, busts, 'statues, and statuettes, bearing eloquent testimony to the sculptor's industry ! and ability. We learn from him that he has twenty-nine figures of the Royal Family and celebrated men in the Victorian reign exhibition; at. the Crystal Palace, and that be has; Vexecuted.» 273 busts alone. .In this room "there are A. J. Bilfour, the rugged features of Lord Tennyson {modelled at r Aldworth -under Lady Tennyson's Prince Leopold, the late: Duke of Marlborough, divines (including the well-known "Hang-theology Rogers"), mayors and millionaires, princes and politicians. A pretty child's face peeps from the petals of a rose, one group of boys is _fisbing, another ferreting. The mo3t striking work here is a nude in a recess, and Mr Williamson turns the figure round for us to see. This Hypatia was modelled for Lord Coleridge. It is perhaps Mr Williamson's chef d'eeuvre, or, perhaps, ought more correctly to be called his piece de resistance. Hypatia stands defying the mob, as described in.Kingsley's novel: "Rising to her full ; height, snow white, shame and indignation in those wide, clear eyes. With one hand she clasped her golden locks around her,.the other long.white arm was stretched upward towards the great still Christ ap-' pealing from man to God." The expression desoribed by Kingsley has been well caught by:the sculptor, although, to my mind, he has perhaps accentuated too strongly " the firm,'round, ripe outline," and given to the face too strong an expression of fierce defiance and not enough spiritual resignation.

Afier this our host insists on our resting and partaking of the refreshment which he provides, as he.knows the ways of oolonials and'their liking for a "smoke oh." He himself will not sit down, although he stands alldaylorig f takes no holidays, and often works until midnight, preferring gas to daylight} as he can concentrate the light better on a particular piece of work. While we imbibe he,simply oveiflows with j-st and anecdote,. until his cigar fhtly refuses to keeß;,alight. He is not only an eminent scuinor, but a fellow of infinite jest, possessed of an inexhaustible supply of dry yarus and au inimitably dramatic method of tellijig them, for he enacts iu turn all the personages whose adventures he is recounting, until wo expect to see ,even the grim -churchmen's busts' around us break into ; laughter. Being brought into such close contact with the Royal Family', Mr Williamson has much to tsll us of them and of life behind the scenes of the regal stage when the dramatis persona have retired to the green room. But even the peine forte it dure shall not wring from ma what transpired ia that Btudio, lest both host and guest be brought through the Traitora' Gate an<v clapped into some deep dungeon of the While Tower below the regalia with which our sculptor has toyed. Oa the mantelpiece stands a statuette of B;own, executed in bronzs, for the Queen, tha features expressive of the sturdy, somewhat' brusque, independence x>f her favorite attendant. Mr Williamson has a tale or two about " John " and his sayings, and we laugh over the lauer's criticism of the medallion of Prince Leopold on the opposite wall. In fact there is hardly a work in the studio which has not attached to it some amusing or pathetic incident. There are busts of husbands ordered by sorrowing wives, who have married again before the dear departed's features arc free from the artist's' chisel, and who have, in some cases, repented of their commission aud in others paid the sculptor's fee and left the bust oa his hands. A graceful little model of a lady reclining on a Greek couch is intended as a birthday present for some happy husband. Oaeof Mr Williamson's beat designs is a recumbent figure of the late Eirl of Roßslyn, his sorrowing widow weeping, grief stricken, over her husband's body, her graceful figure artistically breaking the long straight lines of white marble. This is to be placed in Rosslyn Chapel, celebrated for its famous Prentice Pillar.

"That's a queer old chap," says Mr Williamson, pointing to an odd face; «' Dean . See, the right side of his face is crotchety and bad tempered, while the other," turning the bust round, " is amiable and good hummed. So he was in real life. The first time I ever met him I couldn't get anything out of him but a grunt. I aßked his wife at breakfast if he was ill. ' Oh,' she Replied, ' on which side of him did you walk? The right? That accounts for it. If you want to get on with him you should always keep on his left.' Which was aqueer way of keeping on the right side of a man, wasn't it ?"

The mention of Foley reminds Mr Williamson that he learnt his trade as an apprentice of that famous sculptor, and ho tells us another reminiscence, which he re? lates with all the more gusto as it ia rather against himself. Foley was showing the Queen and other Royalties round his studio, and oalled their attention to a statue of belden, with outstretched hands, now in the entrance to the House of Commons. He beckoned to young Williamson to jump up on the banker and hold on the hands, which had been cut off for the purpose of modelling. "I was a lively youngster in those days," says Mr Williamson, " and I hopped up with such energy, that \ split my nether garments. Imagine my position. There I was in this predicament, with my back to the Queen and my hands in the air. I. grew red and white alternately. That was the first time I saw the Queen. The next time 1 saw her was when she came to my Btudio to-look at a commission. I was explaining to her that I had formerly been with Foley. 'Ohyes !' said the Queen, 'I remember. I n-sver forget faces.' This brought that first meeting back to my mind vividly and renewed my nervousness."

The statue of sister Dora, the celebrated nurse, the .first,erected'io England to a non-royal woman, and the reliefs round its base excite my curioßity. Mr Williamson explains the subjects of the D,ora tending a dyiDg man, who asks forgiveness for having cut her head open with a brick on her arrival at Walsall; Sister Dora superintending the relief of men injured in a mining disaster, a little girl persistently tugging at her dress to, induce her to go down the mine, to rescue the child's father. " When I made sketches of the place," remarks Mr Williamson,"there was.no rope on thab big wheel. I suppose it was out of gear. So Ileft it out of my relief. I was looking at the monument just after its erection when I heard one miner say to another : 'I don't think much of the bloke as done that. 'E's forgotten the rope.' And I had to send down and get the rope put in." In still another room, Williamson introduced us to hands and feet~of Royalty. One wall is studded with different portions of the Royal anatomy, while on a shelf stand numerous plaster busts (prominent amongst them, that of the late Prince Henry of Battenberg), some of which Mr Williamson tells us he has always to keep in stock in case they are wanted. Witnesses of his continued activity are a monolith to be erected in E3her in memory of 1897, a bust of himself carefully swathed in wet cloths, a Christian martyr bound to the stake and destined "ad leones," and a statue of the Queen on a high pedestal to be erected in theoity. Qne group at the base represents the four colonies—lndia, Africa, Canada.

and Australia, or, as we insist, Australasia—the other England, Scotland, and Ireland. ' I.nearly gob into trouble over this," laughingly cries Mr Williamson. "A Welshwoman objected because I had left out gallant little Wales, but I paoified her by suggesting that I might put a leek in the Q leen's hand instead of a sceptre." As we write our name in the visitors'book (i collection of distinguished autographs) Mr Williamson detains us with an anecdote suggested by the sight of the Royal signatures. The Queen was laying a foundation stone in some town, and to commemorate the occasion knighted the Lord Mayor on the spot. The Lady Mayoress, delighted with the new-born.dignity, was not very well acquainted with the etiquette on such occasions, and, seeing the Queen sign " in the visitors' book, inscribed herself as plain ..-V Clara." We are still laughing heartily over this as we leave the hospitable roof. "Don't pass by the sign.of The Old Grapes without coming in" is the kindly invitation of our host, escorting us to the churchyard. "My house was once an inutile oldest in Esher—and is over 200 years old." - ■■

The churchyard, pleasantly situated on a gentle slope, contains almost another collection of Mr Williamson's works, so numerous are the monuments he has erected here. On the greensward we notice in very sooth Lord Usher in his long wig and robes of office lying peacefully by the side of his wife under a marble canopy, and the light brown stain on the marble corroborates Mr Williamson's story about the wreaths. But the most beautiful monument in this peaceful God's aore—arid to my mind the finest of Mr Williamson's works—is the figure of Mrs Clarke, erected-by her husband," owner of the Sitanita, which sank- the Valkeyrie on the Clyde. Under a high, open canopy she sits on a handsomely carved chair. She is robed in graceful Grecian drapery, and holds a lyre in her right hand. The light falls upon the snow-white marble delicate and distinct against the soft blue sky. It is a charming picture, rendered all the more touching by the knowledge that the husband never lived to see the completion of his wife's statue.

We step out of the church gate on to the village green, on which many an important cricket match has been played, as the tiles and slates of a long row of antiquated, flower-wreathed cottages can testify, pass the old stone gates of Esher House, once the seat of Cardinal. Wolsey, and take our way to the station under a high avenue of beech and chestnut and across the Sandown racecourse, pausing on the stand to enjoy a comprehensive view of undulating wooded country, including Windsor Castle, Harrow-cn-the-Hill, Richmond, and. Hampton. On the way home the rattle of the carriage wheels seem to repeat the old conundrum and its answer: "Why is a sculptor's the most horrible death 1" " Because he makes faces and busts. Fa-ces and Busts. Faces and Busts."

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https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18971016.2.44.3

Bibliographic details

THE HARPER MEMORIAL., Issue 10446, 16 October 1897, Supplement

Word Count
3,304

THE HARPER MEMORIAL. Issue 10446, 16 October 1897, Supplement

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