Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Burnard, Nevill Northey

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783311Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 07 — Burnard, Nevill Northey1886Robert Hunt

BURNARD, NEVILL NORTHEY (1818–1878), sculptor, was the son of George Burnard, a mason, and Jane, his wife. He was born at Alternun in Cornwall in 1818, and baptised in that parish on 1 Nov. in that year. He was brought up by his father as a mason, and at a very early age he showed remarkable facilities for carving in stone. At the age of sixteen he carved in slate the group of the 'Laocoon,' which he sent in 1836 to the exhibition of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society at Falmouth. This carving in bas-relief, executed in an obscure village, without instruction—his only pattern being a woodcut in one of the numbers of the ' Penny Magazine,' and his tools even being of his own making—was considered so very remarkable a production, that the society awarded Burnard their first silver medal. Again in 1841 another silver medal was given to this youthful sculptor for three medallion portraits. Sir Charles Lemon, bart., M.P., who was for many years the president of the Cornwall Polytechnic Society, took considerable interest in the progress of this young man, and specially introduced him to the notice of Chantrey, who secured for him employment as a carver in one of the most celebrated ateliers in London. Through the solicitation of Sir Charles Lemon the queen was pleased to allow Burnard access to Buckingham Palace to model a bust of the young Duke of Cornwall. During the progress of the modelling her majesty did the artist the honour of inspecting the work and expressing her approval of the likeness. Again, on the completion of the bust in marble, the queen was pleased to direct that it should be exhibited at the society's annual exhibition in Cornwall. The cost of this marble bust of the Prince of Wales was met by a fund subscribed in Cornwall, and when placed in the Polytechnic Hall in Falmouth, the opinion unanimously expressed was, that it amply sustained the early expectation which had been formed of the artist s excellence.

This fairly launched Burnard in the world of art, and his remarkable powers as a carver in marble secured him employment in the studios of some of the first sculptors of the day. Among others may be named Bailey, Marshall, and Foley, who highly appreciated his powers.

On the return of Richard Lander from Africa, after having traced the course of the Niger, Burnard was employed to execute the statue for the column erected in his honour at Truro. His only other public work was the statue of 'Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn-law Rhymer,' which stands in the market-place of Sheffield. Burnard executed many portrait-busts of men of eminence, the best known works being marble busts of General Gough, of Professor John Couch Adams, the discoverer of the planet Neptune, of Professor Edward Forbes—of which copies are to be found in the Isle of Man and in the Museum of Practical Geology—and of William Makepeace Thackeray, which Burnard gave to the Plymouth Library, where it now stands, outside the doors of the Cottonian Museum, among other works of much value. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in the years 1855, 1858, 1866, and 1867. Gifted as Burnard was, he failed to secure for himself the position which his genius appeared to have appointed for him. The latter portion of his life was a struggle with difficulties. He lost his friends through irregularities, which made him a most amusing companion, but which led him to fail in completing his engagements, and finally he died in the infirmary at Redruth in Cornwall, on 27 Nov. 1878.

[Reports of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society; Fox's Historical Synopsis of the Polytechnic Society; Academy, xiv. 549, 1878; personal knowledge.]

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