Age or Study of a Head

LL 703


This is apparently a portrait of Clara Weiss of Neuchatel, Switzerland. She and her daughters lived close to Goscombe John's studio in London in 1887 - 1888, and he married one of the daughters (Marthe Weiss) in 1890. Goscombe John's bust of his mother-in-law is strikingly realistic. The sunken eyes, mouth and cheeks and the ageing skin have been skilfully modelled, showing an interest in facial anatomy achieved through proficient modelling techniques. The overall effect has been heightened by the hair which has been drawn back severely behind the head, helping to accentuate the features. Works by other New Sculptors, such as Onslow Ford's ‘Irish Peasant Woman’ and Alfred Gilbert's 'Head of Capri Fisherman' (1884), also show a similar interest in old age and how, through modelling and casting, sculptors were able to achieve a greater sense of realism. Goscombe John's choice of material is unusual and may provide an intriguing insight into the 'lost wax' process of casting. A chip, for example, visible on the left hand side of the nose, conveniently reveals what appears to be a resin foundation, suggesting that the head has possibly been cast in wax from a clay original. Moreover, a line still visible behind the subject's ears and continuing over her head, indicates where the two halves of the mould came together. On the surface the artist has applied a light coloured coat of paint which helps to enhance the delicate tonal effects which he presumably sought. Conforming with New Sculpture principles, Goscombe John produced several versions of this bust in a variety of materials. There is a marble version in the collection at National Museum of Wales and bronzes in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and at the Neuchatel Art Gallery, Switzerland. A bronze was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1892 and a plaster version was exhibited at the Chicago International Exhibition in 1893. There is also a drawing (probably) for the marble version in one of the sculptor's sketchbooks now in the Royal Academy.