Scene from Milton's 'Comus'

WAG 10622.1


This is a drawing to illustrate lines 851-853 from 'Comus', a masque or courtly entertainment written by the poet John Milton (1608 - 1674) in 1634. The character of Comus was inspired by the Greek god of revelry. This scene shows Sabrina, the patron deity of the River Severn, being tempted into the water by the river nymphs. The drawing comes from a sketchbook. Son of a Welsh market gardener who settled in Liverpool, Gibson was apprenticed to a cabinet-maker then a stonemason. He trained under the Sculptor F A Lege and from 1810 was exhibiting drawings and models at the Liverpool Academy. His first patron was Liverpool art collector William Roscoe (1753 - 1831) and he made copies of Old Master drawings in Roscoe's Collection. He went to London in 1817 to continue his studies of Greek and Roman sculpture and met the sculptor John Flaxman (1755 - 1826). That same year he travelled to Rome where he met the infamous sculptor Antonio Canova (1757 - 1822). Gibson studied with Canova and at the Accademia di San Luca. Under Canova's guidence he produced his first original work in Rome, 'The Sleeping Shepherd Boy', now in the Royal Academy Collection, London. He also received instruction from the Rome-based sculptor Bertel Thorwaldsen (1770 - 1844). Like Canova and Thorwaldsen, Gibson sought to achieve ideal beauty in sculpture through the study both of the human form and of antique Greek and Greco-Roman originals. Gibson established a British School in Rome, where he taught many British artists. He lived in Rome for the rest of his life. Gibson's success relied on the support of his patrons in Rome, London and Liverpool. Some of his works were commissioned by people who were involved in the transatlantic slave trade and were responsible for the enslavement of many African people. We are continuing to research these contested colonial histories to fully understand their connection to Gibson's work in the Walker Art Gallery.