Gibbons, Grinling (DNB00)

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GIBBONS, GRINLING (1648–1720), wood-carver and statuary, was born at Rotterdam on 4 April 1648 of Dutch origin. This is proved by a letter preserved in the Ashmolean MSS. (20243) in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, dated 12 Oct. 1682, wherein Gibbons invokes Ashmole's skill in prognostication with reference to a ‘consarne of great consiquens,’ and encloses a letter from his sister, giving an account of his birth, to enable Ashmole to calculate his astrological figure. The mixture of Dutch and English in the letter reveals his nationality. Thoresby, in his ‘Diary’ (ed. Hunter, 2 vols., London, 1830), describes Gibbons as his countryman, i.e. a native of Yorkshire, and also states that Gibbons worked at York under Etty, the architect. It has also been suggested that he was son of Simon Gibbons, a skilful carpenter, who worked under Inigo Jones in the reign of Charles I. He lived for some time in Belle Sauvage Court, Ludgate Hill, where he is stated to have carved a pot of flowers over a doorway, which shook with the motion of the carriages which passed by; this seems unlikely, as all Gibbons's wood-carving, though marvellously light in appearance, is really perfectly rigid and strong. He carved capitals and other ornaments for the theatre in Dorset Garden. Wishing to apply himself to his profession of wood-carving without interruption, he moved to a small lonely house at Deptford, and set to work on a copy of Tintoretto's great picture of the ‘Crucifixion’ at Venice, which contained more than a hundred figures, and was encased in an elaborate frame of flowers and fruit. While working on this he was discovered on 18 Jan. 1671 by John Evelyn, the diarist [q. v.], who lived at Sayes Court, close by. Evelyn was astonished and delighted at the wonderful talents of young Gibbons, obtained the king's permission to show him Gibbons's work, and invited his friends, including Sir Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys, to inspect it. On 1 March Gibbons brought his carving to Whitehall, where it was inspected by the king, who had it carried to the queen's bedchamber to be shown to her. Owing to a want of appreciation on her part, the work, contrary to expectation, was not purchased by the king. Gibbons eventually sold it to Sir George Viner for 80l. Evelyn spared no trouble to advance his young protégé, whose novel genius soon became well known, and his fortune secured. The specialty of his wood-carving lay in carving pendent groups and festoons of flowers, fruit, game, and other ornaments, as large as life, and carefully copied from nature. These were executed with a taste and delicacy which, though often imitated, has always remained unequalled. They were usually carved in limewood. For church panels and mouldings he used oak, for medallions boxwood or pearwood, but cedar rarely, except for the architraves in large mansions. The king purchased from him a carving, on the same scale as the ‘Crucifixion,’ representing the ‘Stoning of St. Stephen,’ containing seventy figures, and carved out of three blocks of wood. This the king gave to the Duke of Chandos, who placed it at Cannons, and when that mansion was demolished the carving was bought by Mr. John Gore, M.P., from whom it descended to Mr. J. Gurdon Rebow of Wyvenhoe Park, Essex. Another large carving is in the ducal palace at Modena, probably sent as a present from the king. Wren promised Evelyn to employ Gibbons, and the new St. Paul's Cathedral afforded him an opportunity. The choir stalls in that cathedral are the work of Gibbons, and the festoons on the exterior were executed in his style, and perhaps under his superintendence. Several of Wren's city churches contain work by Gibbons, who also executed the busts, coats of arms, and ornaments to complete the interior of Wren's new library at Trinity College, Cambridge. Gibbons was employed by the king at Windsor, Whitehall, and Kensington. Nearly all the mansions of the nobility built at this time were decorated to some extent with carvings executed under Gibbons. At Chatsworth, where there is an extensive series of carvings executed by Gibbons or under his direction, there is a wonderful carving of a point-lace cravat and other still-life, presented by Gibbons to the Duke of Devonshire after the completion of the works. A similar but less elaborate piece of work was in possession of Baroness Burdett-Coutts. Belton House (near Grantham), Blenheim, Wimpole, Cassiobury, Burghley, Petworth, Somerleyton, Houghton, Melbury, Gatton, and many others rank his carvings among their chief treasures. Those at Belton House may be noted, not only as particularly fine specimens, but as examples of a successful process of restoration invented by W. G. Rogers [q. v.]; this process has been since successfully applied to numbers of the carvings elsewhere. The wooden throne at Canterbury Cathedral, given by Archbishop Tenison, was carved by Gibbons. It would be impossible to enumerate all Gibbons's carvings, but his portrait medallions are worthy of special notice. His talents were not devoted to wood-carving alone, for his works in marble give him claim to distinction as a statuary. Good examples of his work in this line are the tomb of Baptist Noel, viscount Campden, at Exton; the font in St. Margaret's, Lothbury; the bust of Sir Peter Lely on his tomb in St. Paul's, Covent Garden (destroyed by fire in 1795); the pedestal of Charles II's statue in the courtyard at Windsor; the statues of Charles II at the Royal Exchange and at Chelsea Hospital; and of James II (in bronze) at Whitehall. Gibbons himself could not have executed all the commissions given him with his own hands, and he employed numerous carvers to carry out his designs. Among them were Selden, who lost his life in saving the carved room at Petworth from a destructive fire; Watson, who executed most of the famous carvings at Chatsworth; Henry Phillips, who worked with Gibbons at Whitehall; and others. In statuary he was assisted by Dyvoet of Mechlin and Laurens of Brussels, who executed the statue of James II at Whitehall; and by Arnout Quellin of Antwerp in various works. The pedestal of Charles I's statue at Charing Cross, so often attributed to Gibbons, was executed by Joshua Marshall, master-mason to the king, possibly from Gibbons's designs. Gibbons was master-carver in wood to the crown from the time of Charles II to that of George I, and also held an office in the board of works. He resided from 1678 in Bow Street, Covent Garden; in January 1701 his house fell down, but fortunately none of the family were injured (Postman, 24 Jan. 1701). He died in the house rebuilt there on 3 Aug. 1720, and was buried on 10 Aug. in St. Paul's, Covent Garden; his wife had been buried there on 30 Nov. 1719. They had nine or ten children, all baptised at St. Paul's, including five daughters, one of whom, Catherine, married Joseph Biscoe, and was buried at Chelsea, 23 Jan. 1731–2, leaving two sons. Another daughter, Elizabeth, had administration of her father's effects granted to her on 7 Sept. 1721; she was then unmarried. Gibbons's portrait was painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller (formerly at Houghton, now at St. Petersburg), and, with his wife, by Closterman; both were engraved in mezzotint by John Smith. Evelyn describes Gibbons, when he first met him, as ‘likewise musical, and very civil, sober, and discreete in his discourse.’

[Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting, ed. Dallaway and Wornum; Evelyn's Diary; Builder, 1862; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. iii. 504, 573, 606, iv. 43, 63, 106, 259; Audit Office Declared Accounts in Publ. Rec. Off. (giving prices of various works); Cunningham's Lives of British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects; information from Mr. A. W. Gibbons and Mr. G. A. Rogers; authorities quoted in the text.]

L. C.