John Henry Foley

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Foley, John Henry, R.A., sculptor, was born in Dublin, 24th May 1818. At the age of thirteen he became a student in the art schools of the Royal Dublin Society, where he obtained first prizes for studies of the human form, for animals, for architecture, and for modelling. Removing to London in 1834, he entered the schools of the Royal Academy, and first appeared as an exhibitor in 1839 with his "Death of Abel," and a figure of "Innocence." In 1840 his group of "Ino and Bacchus" elicited much commendation, and henceforth his success was rapid and striking. He became an A.R.A. in 1849. Two of the statues — those of Hampden and Selden — in the House of Parliament at Westminster, were executed by him. In 1856 he completed in bronze a statue of Lord Hardinge for Calcutta, believed to be the finest equestrian statue up to that time executed in the United Kingdom. In 1858 he modelled "Caractacus" for the London Mansion House, and the same year became a R.A.

The overpowering press of work thenceforward imposed upon him prevented the prosecution of his earlier ideal studies. He is best known in Ireland by his statues of Goldsmith and Burke in front of Trinity College, Dublin, and of Father Mathew in Cork; whilst his design for a monument to O'Connell, to be erected in Dublin, was, at the period of his death, nearly completed. Amongst other works from his chisel are the principal statue and five of the emblematical figures belonging to the Albert Memorial, in Hyde Park, London. Foley wrote poetry, and was an accomplished and enthusiastic musician; he was much beloved and esteemed in all the private relations of life. He died at the Priory, Hampstead, London, 27th August 1874, aged 56, and was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. The Examiner said at the period of his death: "We have said that Mr. Foley was our greatest practical sculptor, by which we mean the greatest artist who had fairly embodied his ideas. Flaxman as a designer and a draughtsman — as what we might term a sketcher in sculpture — has no equal; and if we say that Foley's art in its concrete, finished form, combining as it does the severity of the ancient with the picturesqueness of the modern school, is the finest yet seen in England, especially if we confine our remarks to historic portraiture, few, we should imagine, would be prepared to dispute the assertion. Mr. Foley's devotion to his art was as intense as his manners were simple. He flattered no literary coterie, and was never seen much in what we call society. His familiar friends were few, and nothing delighted him more than to see them round his table. He was a sympathetic listener, but could at opportune moments show that he was not deficient in the sprightly qualities of his countrymen. In all matters of a philanthropic kind he was always the first to move, and in this respect his wife was a ready and active helpmate unto him. The very last flower-wreaths that fell upon his coffin were dropped by grateful hands."

Sources

7. Annual Register. London, 1756-1877.

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

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