Sir Alfred Gilbert RA, MVO
Born 12 August 1854
Died 4 November 1934
Active: 1874 - 1934
Country of birth and death: England
Sculptor, medallist, goldsmith
Born at 13 Berners Street, Oxford Street, London. Gilbert attended the Thomas J. Heatherley School of Art in London (1872-3) and then the Royal Academy Schools (1873-5). He considered the teaching of sculpture at the RA inadequate and so supplemented his studies in the studios of Matthew Noble and William Gibbs Rogers. In 1872 he became a studio assistant to Edgar Boehm, where Gilbert also worked with Edouard Lanteri.
At Boehm's recommendation, he went to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under the sculptor Pierre-Jules Cavelier in 1875. Three years later he moved to Rome (1878) and remained living and working on the continent until 1884.
From 1882 Gilbert exhibited in London where his work immediately attracted significant critical attention. From 1885, when Gilbert secured his first major commission (the Fawcett memorial, Westminster Abbey, 1885-7), his studio was exceptionally busy. Amongst his numerous commissions were the Winchester jubilee memorial to Queen Victoria (1887, Great Hall of Winchester Castle, Winchester) and the Shaftesbury memorial, Piccadilly Circus, London (1886-93).
Gilbert was exceptionally inventive in his use of materials, ranging from ivory and copper through semi-precious stones, to silver and gold. He also pioneered the use of cast aluminium and worked on adapting Japanese bronze casting techniques to achieve polychromatic effects.
Although Gilbert's practice was extremely successful, his debts mounted due to high studio costs and a perfectionism which resulted in considerable delays to the delivery of completed works. He was particularly slow to complete the commission for a tomb to Prince Edward, duke of Clarence, St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle (1892-1901, completed 1926-8). This led to a disagreement with the royal family and to his ultimate disgrace.
From c.1901 Gilbert lived in Bruges, Belgium where he attempted unsuccessfully to start an art academy. Meanwhile he was Professor of Sculpture at the Royal Academy of Arts and returned regularly to London to lecture.
However, his private affairs continued to decline and he had several difficult relationships with clients that further damaged his reputation. Accusations of professional misconduct mounted, with the result that in 1908 he was asked to resign from membership of the Royal Academy.
Gilbert lived in Bruges in considerable poverty until 1924, when he moved to Rome and then England (1926). The journalist, Isabel McAllister played a key role in obtaining forgiveness from George V for Gilbert's mismanagement of the Clarence Tomb commission.
In 1932, Gilbert was reinstated as a Royal Academician and was also knighted. For the next two years he lived in a studio in Kensington Palace. Gilbert died at the Cromwell Nursing Home, 198 Cromwell Road, London.
Wealth at death: £920 9s. 10d.
Probate date: 16 March 1935
Dates are usually the year a work was exhibited so may differ from date of production.
New entries have been made each time a work was exhibited. Click here for more information.
Decorative spoon depicting Apollo dancing
Decorative spoon depicting Europa and the bull
Offering to Hymen
Old fisherman's head
Comedy and tragedy
Head of a child
Exhibitions, Meetings, Awards and other Events
Attended Third Council Meeting of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, 1898
Chaired meeting and took minutes. Tendered resignation from Council.
Attended Second Council meeting of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, 1898
Chaired meeting and took minutes.
Attended First Council Meeting of the International Society of Scuptors, Painters and Gravers (London), 1898
Chaired meeting and took notes.
Award received from Prize for Distinguished Service to Sculpture (Royal Society of British Sculptors), 1923-1949
Awarded the Gold Medal of the Society in the Autumn of 1926.
Exhibited at Exhibition of Fair Women (International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, London), 1909
Exhibited at Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society: Second Exhibition, 1889
Exhibited at Franco-British Exhibition of Science, Art and Industries (London), 1908
Exhibited at Royal Hibernian Academy Annual Exhibition, 1894
Exhibited at Leeds City Art Gallery, Special Loan Exhibition, 1911
Exhibited at Autumn exhibition of modern pictures in oil and water-colours: the thirtieth (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), 1900
'Thomas, Son of Val Prinsep, Esq., RA'
Exhibited at Corporation of Manchester Art Gallery, Twenty-Fourth Autumn Exhibition, 1906
'An Old Fisherman's Head'
Exhibited at Laing Art Gallery and Museum, Special Loan Collection of Selected Modern Pictures, 1914
Exhibited at The Exhibition of the Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, The Eightieth, 1906
Exhibited at The Exhibition of the Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, The Eighty-Third, 1909
'Head of a child'
Exhibited at The Exhibition of the Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, The Eighty-Fourth, 1910
'St George and the dragon'
Exhibited at The Exhibition of the Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, The Eighty-Fifth, 1911
Exhibited at The Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts (Summer Exhibition), 1768-
1882 - 1934
Exhibited 19 times between 1882-1907, then resigned his membership until invited to resume in 1932. Exhibited twice more in 1933-1934, and then once posthumously in 1935. Number of works shown varied from year to year (between 1 and 4), with a total of 42 shown over his career.
Exhibited at International Exhibition, Glasgow, 1901
Exhibited at Exhibition of Modern Paintings and Sculpture lent by The Corporation of Manchester, Rutherston Loan Scheme (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery), 1929
16 September 1929 - 7 December 1929
His one work which is undated in the catalogue and may have exhibited posthumously.
Exhibited at Festival of Britain, London: Ten Decades, a Review of British Taste, 1851-1951, 1951
Gilbert's 'Perseus Arming' was lent by the Fine Arts Society and exhibited posthumously.
Exhibition committee member for The Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, The One Hundred and Twenty-Sixth (Summer Exhibition), 1894
11 April 1894 - 25 April 1894
Responsible for the arrangement of sculpture. See Royal Academy, 'Annual Report, 1894' (1895), p. 23.
Exhibition committee member for The Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, The One Hundred and Twenty-Seventh (Summer Exhibition), 1895
8 April 1895 - 23 April 1895
Responsible for the arrangement of sculpture. See Royal Academy, 'Annual Report, 1895' (1896), p. 22.
Exhibition committee member for The Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, One Hundred and Thirty-Fourth (Summer Exhibition), 1902
9 April 1902 - 22 April 1902
Responsible for the arrangement of sculpture. See Royal Academy, 'Annual Report, 1902' (1903), p. 21.
Speaker at Fountains (Art Workers Guild), 1901
Wrote catalogue for Exhibition of sculpture by the late Prof. E. Lanteri (Leicester Galleries), 1920
January 1920 - January
Gilbert contributed an appreciation of Lanteri's work to the exhibition catalogue
Institutional and Business Connections
Associated with Joseph Hemming and Co.
Donor to Art Workers Guild
Promised the Guild a Master's Badge, but this was not forthcoming. In 1902 George Frampton made a gift of one on his departure from the Master's Chair
Elected ARA Royal Academy of Arts
7 January 1887 - 8 December 1892
Elected RA in 1892.
Elected RA Royal Academy of Arts
8 December 1892 - 25 November 1908
Resigned in 1908.
Elected RA Royal Academy of Arts
June 1932 - 1934
On the 31 May 1932, the Council recommended that Gilbert be invited to 'resume the Membership of the Royal Academy which he resigned in 1908'. This was approved by the King on 1 June. 'On June 9, following the unveiling of the Memorial to Queen Alexandra in Marlborough Gate, Mr. Gilbert received the honour of knighthood from the King'. See Royal Academy, 'Annual Report, 1932', (1933), pp. 5-6.
Honorary member of Royal Society of British Sculptors
2 March 1905 (Presumed) - 1934 (Presumed)
Died in 1934.
Invited to join Royal Society of British Sculptors
10 January 1905 - 2 March 1905
Amongst those 'Invited to join without the formality of proposal and seconding' [January 10 1905]. Declined to join 'for private reasons' [2 March 1905]. Is perhaps worth noting that letter of invitation [included in minutes] states cost of annual subscription as £1 11s 6d. Was then recommended by council for Honorary Membership [Royal Society of British Sculptors, Minutes of Council Meetings, Vol.I].
Lectured at Royal Academy Schools
February 1888 - 1902
Lectured twice at the Royal Academy in February 1888, because the post of Professor of Sculpture was vacant. See 'Annual Report, 1888', (1889), p. 14 and p. 43. Gilbert lectured again six times in February and March 1901, with a series entitled 'A Glimpse into the Lives, Work, and Methods of Great Masters of the 14th, 15th, and 16th Centuries. See 'Annual Report, 1901', (1902), p. 41. Lectured again in 1902.
Member of Art Workers Guild
1888 - 1934
Resigned 1891, made honorary member 1900. Rejoined 1901, resigned 1904, rejoined 1932.
Member of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers
Was chair for first three meetings, then resigned. At their fourth meeting, in 1898,in his absence, the Council of decided to invite Gilbert to participate in their exhibition.
Member of council Royal Academy of Arts
Listed as a Member of the Council from .... to 1895, and from 1901 to 1902. See Royal Academy, 'Annual Reports'.
Professor of sculpture at Royal Academy of Arts
1900 - 1904
See Popp and Valentine, 'Royal Academy of Arts Directory of Membership', (1996), p. 49.
Resigned from Royal Academy of Arts
25 November 1908 - 31 May 1932
'Forced to resign due to a scandal caused by his failure to complete commissioned works' [RA directory of membership, p.49].
Student at Royal Academy Schools
17 January 1874
See Popp and Valentine, 'Directory of Membership' (1996), p. 49. In 1875 Gilbert won a second silver medal for a model of a figure from the life. See Royal Academy 'Annual Report, 1875', (1878), p. 30. No end date is given, however, Gilbert became an A.R.A. on the 7 January 1887.
Studied at Royal Academy Schools
Awarded a silver medal for the best model from the antique in 1874. See Royal Academy 'Annual Report, 1874', (1877), p. 26.
Visitor at Royal Academy Schools
1888 - 1889
Listed as a Visitor to the School of Modelling from the Life, from 1888 onwards. See Royal Academy, 'Annual Report, 1887', (1888), p. 30.
Personal and Professional Connections
Assistant was Peter Russell McCrossan
1893 (Circa) - 1902 (Circa)
Listed as having been an assistant to Gilbert for nine years in the St. Martin's School of Art prospectus from 1912-1913. McCrossan was teaching at the school in 1902, however, there are no avaliable prospectuses from before this date in the Central Saint Martins archive collection; the dates given here are, therefore, only approximate.
Nominated by Frederic Leighton
30 January 1884
Nominator of Henry Charles Fehr
9 December 1893
For RA; unsuccessful.
Nominator of Gilbert William Bayes
7 November 1932
For RA; unsuccessful.
Seconded by (Joseph) Edgar Boehm
30 January 1884
Studio assistant to (Joseph) Edgar Boehm
Based on Stocker (2004).
Subject of a talk by Gilbert William Bayes
4 January 1935
At Art Workers' Guild meeting [see entry for event "The Work of Recently deceased members"].
Taught Kathleen Trousdell Shaw
See Forrer, vol. 5, (1912), p. 494, no dates are given.
Descriptions of Practice
Listed as medallist Biographical Dictionary of Medallists, Coin, Gem, and Seal-Engravers, Mint Masters, &c., Ancient and Modern with References to their Works, B.C. 500 - A.D. 1900, Volume II, 1904 Biographical Dictionary of Medallists
Listed as a sculptor and produced numerous portrait medallions that were exhibited at the Royal Academy. Forrer cites Speilmann's 'British Sculpture and Sculptors of to-day', London (1901)as a source. See Forrer, vol. 2, (1904), p. 263.
Listed under Sculptors Post Office London Directory, 1900 Post Office/Kelly London Directories
Art Workers Guild Annual Reports, 1885-1900
1888, p.4; 1900, p.28.
Art Workers Guild Annual Reports, 1901-1912
1901, p.6, p.21; 1903, p.23.
Art Workers Guild Annual Reports, 1913-1933
1932, p.14; 1933, p.9.
Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society: Papers relating to the founding of the Society
'National Exhibition of the Arts'. Listed as one of 20 sculptors invited to be part of selection and hanging committee.
Biographical Dictionary of Medallists, Coin, Gem, and Seal-Engravers, Mint Masters, &c., Ancient and Modern with References to their Works, B.C. 500 - A.D. 1900, Volume II, 1904 Biographical Dictionary of Medallists
Catalogue of the Special Loan Collection of Selected Modern Pictures, November 1914
Cat. Nos. 85, 86
Catalogue of the Special Loan Exhibition, The City Art Gallery, Leeds 1911
Cat. No. 280, p. 31
Catalogue of the Twenty-Fourth Autumn Exhibition, 1906
Cat. No. 254, pp. 46, 54
Notes of ISSPG Council Meetings
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Richard Dorment, ‘Gilbert, Sir Alfred (1854–1934)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/33398, accessed 12 May 2008]
Royal Academy of Arts Nominations for Associateship, 1866-1906
See entries for 1884, 1893.
Royal Society of British Sculptors. Annual Report of Council, with Accounts for the Year Ending 31 December 1926, to be Presented at the Twenty-Second Ordinary General Meeting, 1927
Royal Society of British Sculptors. Minutes of Council Meetings No. 1, 1905-1913
19 May 1913
10 January 1905; 2 March 1905; 13 January 1908.
Ten Decades a review of British Taste, 1851-1951. A Festival of Britain Exhibition organised by the Institute of Contemporary Art by arrangement with the Arts Council of Great Britain, 1951
The Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, 1861-1989. Volume 2, E-K. A Dictionary of Exhibitors at the Annual Exhibitions of the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, 1991 The Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, 1861-1989
Citing this record
'Sir Alfred Gilbert RA, MVO', Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011 [http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=msib2_1204072955, accessed 24 Mar 2017]