Brock, Sir Thomas
- Mark Stocker
Sir Thomas Brock (1847–1922)
Brock, Sir Thomas (1847–1922), sculptor, was born on 1 March 1847 at Worcester, the only son of William Brock, a builder and decorator, and his wife, Catherine, daughter of William Marshall. He was educated at the Government School of Design, Worcester, and then served an apprenticeship in modelling at the Worcester Royal Porcelain Works. In 1866 he became a pupil in the London studio of John Henry Foley, a leading mid-nineteenth-century sculptor. The following year he entered the Royal Academy Schools in London where, in 1869, he won a gold medal for his sculpture Hercules Strangling Antaeus (priv. coll.). In that year he married Mary Hannah (d. 1927), the only child of Richard Sumner of Nottingham; the couple had eight children.
When Foley suddenly died in 1874, Brock undertook the completion of most of his unfinished commissions. The most important of these were the 42 foot high monument to Daniel O'Connell (1866–83, O'Connell Street, Dublin; another version, 1886–90, St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne), and the 15 foot seated bronze figure of Prince Albert, the central figure of the Albert Memorial (1874–6, Kensington Gardens, London. Brock's success in completing work led to many commissions for public monuments in his own right, so that by the time of the death of Sir Edgar Boehm in 1890, he led the field in official sculpture. Unlike Boehm, however, Brock also successfully tackled imaginative, ‘ideal’ sculpture. One example which received acclaim at the Royal Academy was A Moment of Peril (1880, Tate collection), which portrayed an American Indian on horseback, threatened by a giant snake. In its theme, its realism, and its vigour, it owes much to Frederic Leighton's Athlete Wrestling with a Python (1877, Tate collection), a seminal work of the New Sculpture, which Brock had helped to cast. More typical of Brock's œuvre were the portrait statue monuments to Robert Raikes (1880) and Sir Bartle Frere (1888), both in the Embankment Gardens, Westminster, London. In 1883 he was elected to associate membership of the Royal Academy, which was followed by full membership in 1891.
In the latter year Brock was commissioned to design the new coinage effigy of Queen Victoria. His replacement of Boehm's ‘small crown’ with a tiara, a more prominent veil, and a shorter neck, resulted in an image of greater dignity and equal realism. It received widespread praise, with The Times claiming 'The likeness is good, and, as was to be expected from so scholarly a sculptor as Mr. Brock, the modelling is excellent' (31 Jan 1893). An equally successful work of this period but on a far larger scale was his monument to his close friend Leighton (1896–1902, St Paul's Cathedral, London). The recumbent effigy of the artist is flanked on either side by mourning figures representing Painting and Sculpture. This equality seems surprising, as Leighton was far more prolific as a painter than as a sculptor. However, his influence on a generation of sculptors including Brock, Alfred Gilbert, Hamo Thornycroft, and Harry Bates was such that Brock's tribute is entirely appropriate. The monument caused M. H. Spielmann to enthuse: 'In proportion, in harmony of line … in conception, in detail, in decoration, in spirit, it is not very far from perfect' (Spielmann, 26).
Brock's most significant provincial commission was for the massive bronze equestrian statue of Edward, the Black Prince (1896–1903), in City Square, Leeds. Although it shows some dependence on precedents from the Renaissance and on Emmanuel Fremiet's more recent Joan of Arc (1874, place des Pyramides, Paris), the statue is careful in its detailing and powerful in its impact. It perfectly symbolizes the democratic, patriotic, and civic aspirations of its patron, T. Walter Harding, lord mayor of Leeds in 1898–9. The Black Prince, together with such ideal works as The Genius of Poetry (1889–91, Carlsberg Museum, Valby, Denmark) and Eve (1898, Tate collection), reflects Brock's transition from the robust realism of Foley to the greater stylistic and psychological complexity of the New Sculpture.
The work which dominated Brock's later career was the Queen Victoria Memorial (1901–24, The Mall, London). Unusually, no competition was held to choose the sculptor. Brock's appointment came at the invitation of the memorial committee and reflected the fact that no other living sculptor had produced more portraits of the queen. The memorial was envisaged as part of an ambitious civic scheme, designed by Aston Webb, involving the transformation of the Mall into a grand processional route adorned with sculptural groups. This was only partially realized, whereas Brock's memorial was executed much as he had intended, giving it unexpected dominance. The memorial consists of a 24 foot high marble statue of the enthroned queen, surrounded by groups representing Truth, Justice, and Motherhood. These are surmounted by a gilt-bronze figure of Victory, supported by Courage and Constancy. Around the rim and at the outer corners are further large-scale allegorical groups. When George V unveiled the memorial in May 1911, he was so pleased with the result that in an impromptu gesture he demanded a sword and knighted Brock on the spot. Although most sculptures for the memorial were completed by 1914, the final groups on the surrounding plinths were not placed in position until 1924, two years after Brock's death.
Opinions have always differed over the merits of the Queen Victoria Memorial. From the outset, what was regarded as its allegorical pomposity aroused critical hostility. More recently, in The New Sculpture (1983), Susan Beattie castigated the memorial for being derivative, citing works by Alfred Stevens, Jules Dalou, and Alfred Gilbert as obvious precursors. Yet Brock can be equally admired for intelligent eclecticism in his use of these sources. Moreover, the sculptures have a fine sense of rhythm and proportion, and the imperial panache of the ensemble is undeniable. Aston Webb alluded to these qualities in his tribute to Brock as an artist 'highly sensitive to beauty of proportion, form and design and endowed with a keen insight into character, this being combined with great technical skill, which made him in every way a master of his craft' (The Builder, 8 Sept 1922).
Among Brock's later works are the monuments to Sir Henry Irving (1910, Irving Street, London), Captain James Cook (1914, Pall Mall, London), and Richard John Seddon (1911–15, parliamentary buildings, Wellington, New Zealand). He received numerous honours besides his knighthood, including an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford (1909) and honorary memberships of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Society of Arts, and the Société des Artistes Français. In 1905, the year after its foundation, he was appointed founder president of the Society of British Sculptors. His studio assistants included Henry Fehr and Francis Derwent Wood.
Thomas Brock died at 4 Dorset Square, London, on 22 August 1922 and was buried in Mayfield, Sussex. He was survived by his wife. Since his death his art historical reputation has dwindled so considerably that he has been dubbed 'London's forgotten sculptor' (Sankey, 61). His qualities of intelligence, punctuality, consistency, care, courteousness, and cost-effectiveness count for little when the product is considered reactionary and academic. He has paid dearly for fitting so well into his age.
- J. A. Sankey, ‘London's forgotten sculptor’, ILN (Dec 1985), 61–4
- M. H. Spielmann, British sculpture and sculptors of to-day (1901), 25–33
- B. Read, Victorian sculpture (1982)
- E. Darby and M. Darby, ‘The nation's memorial to Queen Victoria’, Country Life, 164 (1978), 1647–50
- B. Read and A. Kader, Leighton and his sculptural legacy: British sculpture, 1875–1930 (1996) [exhibition catalogue, Matthiesen Gallery, London, 8 Feb – 22 March 1996]
- J. Blackwood, London’s immortals: the complete outdoor commemorative statues (1989)
- J. Darke, The monument guide to England and Wales (1991)
- M. Stocker, ‘A great man and a great imperialist: Sir Thomas Brock's statue of Richard John Seddon’, Sculpture Journal, 1 (1997), 45–51
- M. Stocker, ‘The coinage of 1893’, British Numismatic Journal, 66 (1996), 67–86
- B. Lewis, ‘The Black Prince in City Square’, Leeds Art Calendar, 84 (1979), 21–8
- S. Beattie, The New Sculpture (1983)
- S. Jones and others, eds., Frederic Leighton, 1830–1896 (1996) [exhibition catalogue, RA, 15 Feb – 21 April 1996]
- M. Stocker, ‘Brock, Sir Thomas’, The dictionary of art, ed. J. Turner (1996)
- B. Read and P. Ward-Jackson, eds., Archive 4: late 18th and 19th century sculpture in the British Isles, Courtauld Institute illustration archives (1976–), pt 7: London (1978)
- J. Sankey, ‘Thomas Brock and the Albert Memorial’, Sculpture Journal, 3 (1999), 87–92
- CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1922)
- The Connoisseur, 64 (1922), 121–2
- Civic Museum, Dublin
- Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
- NL NZ
- TNA: PRO, Mint 7/48
- V&A NAL, biography
- CUL, letters to Lord Stamfordham and H. Baker
- V&A NAL, letters to Lord Alverstone
- T. B. Wirgman, oils, 1888, Aberdeen Art Gallery
- R. W. Robinson, photograph, 1889, NPG [see illus.]
- Russell & Sons, photograph, 1901, NPG
- photograph, 1903, repro. in Black and white guide to the Royal Academy and the New Gallery (1903)
- H. von Herkomer, oils, 1908 (The council of the Royal Academy), Tate collection
- R. Cleaver, group portrait, pen-and-ink drawing (Hanging committee, Royal Academy, 1892), NPG
- Maull & Fox, photograph, NPG
- Spy [L. Ward], cartoon, NPG; repro. in VF (21 Sept 1905)
Wealth at Death
£83,555 16s. 8d.: probate, 17 Oct 1922, CGPLA Eng. & Wales