Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Foley, John Henry

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FOLEY, JOHN HENRY (1818–1874), sculptor, was born in Dublin on 24 May 1818. At the age of thirteen he entered the schools of the Royal Dublin Society, and gained the first prizes for human form, ornamental design, animals, and architecture. In 1834 he came to London, and was admitted a student of the Royal Academy in the following year. In 1839 he exhibited ‘The Death of Abel’ and ‘ Innocence,’ which at once attracted attention, and in the following year a group of ‘Ino and Bacchus,’ which was purchased by the Earl of Ellesmere. In 1841 came ‘Lear and Cordelia,’ followed in 1842 by ‘Venus rescuing Æneas from Diomed,’ and by ‘Prospero and Miranda’ in 1843. In 1844 he sent a figure, ‘Youth at the Stream,’ to the competition at Westminster Hall for the decoration of the houses of parliament, and in 1847 he received a commission to execute the statue of Hampden, which now stands in the entrance corridor, together with that of Selden, afterwards commissioned. In 1849 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and in 1858 a royal academician. He continued to contribute to the exhibitions of the Academy till 1861, but in consequence of a dispute about the arrangement of the sculpture at the following exhibition he refused to exhibit again. Among the finest of his exhibited works not already mentioned were ‘The Mother,’ 1851; ‘Egeria,’ 1856; ‘The Elder Brother in Comus,’ his diploma work, 1860; and ‘Oliver Goldsmith,’ 1861. More important, however, than these were some of his subsequent works, the three equestrian statues of Lord Canning, Lord Hardinge, and Sir James Outram for Calcutta; and the group of Asia and the figure of the prince for the Albert Memorial, the latter of which was not erected till after his death. Among his other works in public places are: ‘Caractacus’ and ‘Egeria’ at the Mansion House, ‘John Stuart Mill’ on the Thames Embankment, ‘Sir Charles Barry’ in the House of Commons, and ‘Lord Herbert’ in Pall Mall. His statues of O'Connell, Lord Gough, Goldsmith, and Burke are at Dublin, Lord Clyde at Glasgow, Father Mathew at Cork, Clive at Shrewsbury, the Hon. J. Stuart at Ceylon, and General Stonewall Jackson in America. Of Foley's sepulchral monuments the most remarkable are those erected to Admiral Sir William Cornwallis and others in Melfield Church, Hampshire, to General the Hon. Robert Bruce in Dunfermline Abbey, and to Brigadier-general John Nicholson in Lisburn Cathedral. If we add his statues of Grattan, Faraday, and Reynolds, his monument to James Ward, R.A., and his relief of Miss Helen Faucit (Lady Martin), the list of his more celebrated works will be nearly complete; but he also designed the seal of the Confederate States of America, and we must take account of a large number of busts and other commissions of minor importance before we can fully appreciate the fulness of his employment and the industry of his life. He was a very conscientious and fastidious workman, consulting his friends as to his designs, and altering them continually in course of execution. After a life of devotion to his art he died at Hampstead of pleuritic effusion of the heart, 27 Aug. 1874. He left his models to the Dublin Society, and the bulk of his property to the Artists' Benevolent Fund.

Foley fully deserved the favour which he enjoyed almost from the beginning to the end of his career. His earlier and more ideal works, like ‘Ino and Bacchus,’ ‘Innocence,’ and ‘The Mother,’ were marked by a natural grace and freshness of conception which were at that time rare in modern sculpture. His later figure of ‘Egeria’ is touched with finer poetry, and in his conception of ‘Caractacus’ he displayed that vigour of imagination and grasp of character which distinguished his statues of public men from the work of most of his contemporaries. His three noble equestrian statues of Indian worthies are perhaps his greatest works. They are all very different from one another; but that of Sir James Outram, reining up his horse and turning round as it were suddenly in his saddle, is the most vivacious and original.

[Redgrave's Dict. of Artists, 1878; Art Journal, 1865, 1875, 1877; Works of John Henry Foley, R.A.; English Encyclopædia; Encyclopædia Britannica; Clement and Hutton's Artists of the Nineteenth Century.]

C. M.