Architect Richard Westmacott: a historical profile
Mis à jour : 24 oct 2018
Originally published in The Mayfair Magazine
Westmacott prevails as a highly respected artist who moulded Britain's Neoclassical scenery
In 1792, Westmacott was sent to Rome by his sculptor father, who had a studio on Mount Street, to attend classes by the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova; his influence would define the English artist’s style. Like Canova, Westmacott was a Neoclassical sculptor who drew inspiration from the art and culture of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Upon building his reputation and returning to England six years later, Westmacott had an exhibition at the Royal Academy and was later made an associate and academician.
Westmacott went on to work on a variety of large-scale commissions including his muscular 18-foot statue of Achilles (1814-22), erected in Hyde Park to commemorate the First Duke of Wellington’s military prowess. The piece was funded by £10,000 raised by a committee of women, who voted to conceal the statue’s manhood with a fig leaf, and was sculpted from melted-down captured enemy cannons. Initially, it was too tall to bring through the gates of the park and a whole was created in the wall to get it in.
Five years later, Westmacott completed one of his most acclaimed pieces: the 20-tonne Waterloo Vase (1820-27) commissioned by King George IV. Carved from a large block of Carrara marble, which Napoleon had originally intended to use for a trophy of his expected conquest of Russia, Westmacott ironically sculpted George III’s victory over Napoleon.
In 1851, the artist completed his final major work: the pedimental sculpture of the British Museum, The Progress of Civilisation.
Westmacott’s work remains, more than a century and a half later, a delightful testimony to London as a cultural centre. During his lifetime, Westmacott completed around 275 works and distinguished himself as a leading sculptor of national and civic monuments. He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1837, and prevails as a highly respected artist who moulded Britain’s Neoclassical architectural scenery. After a brief illness, Westmacott died peacefully on 1 September 1856 at his magnificent Audley Street address.