Monday, June 04, 2007


I wait with bated breath for the next instalment of Amanda Sisk’s post on sculptural relief and drawing. As Chris has also picked up this subject in a very positive way I felt somewhat bound to add my bit.

It is necessary sometimes to resort to relief for reasons of space in particular. I do not however warm to it as a an Art in its own right. I feel that far from being the best of both worlds it instead lacks more that it gains. Sculpture has the advantage of presence; it exists, where as a painting and to some extent therefore a relief, is only an image. There are however some excellent examples of good relief work which have much to commend them.

(I have not included the negative (concave) relief but will deal with it under another topic one day.)

Here are just a few I found at random from the 19th C ranging from “the almost flat” to the almost 360 degrees.

“Life’s Circle” by Alfred Turner is a bit idealistic so I will have to admit I like it.

The painter Eva Roos Vedder by Goscombe John

The American Augustus Saints-Gaudens did an early experiment with another painter’s portrait Bastien-Lepage.

In silver, “Dancing" by Frampton

“Peace” by Harry Bates

“Ignis Fatuus” by Henry Pegram

Albert Bartholome's “Monument aux Morts” seems to incorporate both worlds!!

Henry Chapu memorial is deep and

Daniel Chester French has moved it on a bit more to deep relief with his Milmore Memorial.

Erik has also introduced me to a Master of Relief who has really inspired this post. Pier Pander's work can be found at

Swallows has a good post on relief see here:

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Blogger Amanda J. Sisk said...

Oh, dear. I'm afraid I became a bit distracted...away from Academia...and will need to apply myself so that you may draw a breath.

Saint-Gaudens did some lovely reliefs that look like etched copper plates (before they are inked and run through a press with paper). An instructor here showed me a lovely relief - one of powerful drawing - by Annigoni...should see if I can photograph the page in the book.

Yes, relief does seem to fall more to the ornamental than to the monumental and the optical-illusion quality minimizes the "presence" we may experience with sculpture-in-the-round. I respond to the drawing I see in relief...and there is something pleasing about being about to "light" said drawing however I choose.

7:45 pm  
Blogger Marly Youmans said...

And which of these do you like?

The Bartholome makes my skin creep!

7:45 pm  
Blogger Amanda J. Sisk said...

Lighting is so crucial! I dislike looking at sculpture unless it is under optimal lighting...none of these increase my pulse. Very few artworks do.

7:57 pm  
Blogger Robert said...

Sorry about the lighting, the photos are circa 1921 with some digital tinkering from me in an effort to improve them.

I would live to see the Saint-Gaudens you mention.

Marly, do you think that is what he intended? I think the French way of death is rather different to us.

My impression of death American style is influenced by the scenes in the origional version of "The Thomas Crown Affair" and in "Diamonds are for ever".

8:56 am  
Blogger Robert said...

Correction...I would also "love" to see the S_G Amanda. Must have been thinking of my answer to Marly!

8:59 am  
Blogger Susanna said...

I really liked the one "Dancing". I think its sexy the way they look like they are almost covered by a net doing a harem dance. THe one closest to the the front has a beautiful profile.

I also liked the look of the one with the girl writing the word marie. The next time I go before a crowd and write on a chalk board I am going to freak everybody out and assume that pose for a heartbeat of a second.

So what is the story behind the Ignis Fatuus? I may be showing my ignorance, but it looks interesting.

I like things that have a back story, and back stories from the late 1800's through first half of 1900s are always great. I think thats what makes these images still...dont know the perfect word.

1:42 pm  
Blogger Robert said...

I copy this directly from The Tate website.
Ignis Fatuus 1889

Catalogue entry from The Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones & Watts: Symbolism in Britain 1860-1910
HENRY PEGRAM 1862-1937
101 Ignis Fatuus 1889
Bronze 52.1 x 52.1 x 10.2 (20 1/2 x 20 1/2 x 4)
Inscribed 'Henry Pegram 1889' b.r.
Prov: Bt from the artist by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1889
Exh: RA 1889 (2156); Chantrey exhibition 1949 (377)
Lit: Read 1982, p.321
Tate Gallery. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1889

The title translates as 'foolish fire', and is generally used to describe the phenomenon of marsh gas combustion, whose flame-like phosphorescence can sometimes be seen flitting over marshy ground. It is traditionally considered foolhardy to try to follow it into the marshes, and therefore 'Ignis Fatuus' became a description applied to foolish or deluded ventures. Pegram's relief shows a woman sitting on a throne, her head supported by her arm in an attitude that mixes boredom, despair and resignation. Like his broken bow, she has been forsaken by the man in warrior's garb who reaches up towards a group of extraordinary, Redon-like creatures with human heads and the bodies of birds, bats and insects. These are chimeras of his fantasies, imaginations and desires, and represent their ultimate folly.

Pegram was greatly inspired by Alfred Gilbert, and Ignis Fatuus is evidently partly indebted to his relief roundel Post Equitem Sedet Atra Cura (Behind the Horseman Sits Gloomy Care) c.1883-7 (Dorment 1986, no.88), which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1887. Similar in technique, format and modelling, this also warns of the danger and vanity of human aspiration.

There is another cast of Ignis Fatuus in the National Museum of Wales, presented by the sculptor William Goscombe John (1860-1952).
Robert Upstone
Published in:
Andrew Wilton, Robert Upstone, and others, The Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones & Watts: Symbolism in Britain 1860-1910, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, pp.234-5 no.101, reproduced in colour p.235

I look forward to hearing what happens when you do the blackboard thing!

2:09 pm  
Blogger Nabeel said...

I liked the third picture a lot, gave me the impression that it can also be used on a coin .. i.e. looked similar to a coin sketching or etching.

11:01 pm  
Blogger Marly Youmans said...

No, I'm sure he didn't. But there is something claustrophobic about the way one's eye is urged toward that dark square--and the way one is crowded by the two figures there, and forced (so it seems, whether it is so or no) to kneel to go inside.

1:40 am  
Blogger Susanna said...


I really like the British mysteries a lot, but Tues are soap night on BBC America.

Hollyoaks is not something that would be as fun to watch a lone, but with a glass of wine and someone to agg you on, it was a good time.

I am so easily amused :)

11:33 am  
Blogger chris miller said...

If you choose examples that are
"more ornamental than monumental" with an "optical-illusion quality that minimizes the "presence""---- i.e. the work of the Gilded age -- well then -- of course you'll have a low opinion of sculptural relief!

There was a revolution in sculptural taste in the early 20th century -- and that was the source of the examples I chose for my post --- but these only harkened back to the even greater ages of the distant past - where it seemed as if the very social fabric itself depended on the monumental presence of the royal and sacred relief sculpture (Egypt - Assyria - Persia - Ghandara - etc)

(and I would finish this harangue -- but whoops ! I'm so tired I almost fell out of my chair)

4:13 am  
Blogger Robert said...

I would have difficult in agreeing to disagee Chris. I have found some stuff for a yellow name on the 20c figure site and will send it to you.

12:54 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Sculpture has the advantage of presence; it exists, where as a painting and to some extent therefore a relief, is only an image."

Sculpture is much more restricted than painting in its expression. In its mostly monochrome spacial isolation a sculpture is as artifical as a thing kept in a glass bottle.
"Only" an image?
No. Less than an image.

9:29 am  

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