Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sykes, Godfrey

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SYKES, GODFREY (1825–1866), decorative artist, born at Malton, Yorkshire, in 1825, received his training in the government school of art at Sheffield, to the headmastership of which he succeeded. While at Sheffield he at first painted pictures of rolling-mills, smiths' shops, &c.; but, coming under the influence of Alfred Stevens [q. v.], he developed a remarkable talent for decorative work, and in 1861 was invited to London to assist Captain Francis Fowke [q. v.] on the buildings connected with the horticultural gardens then in course of formation. Some of the arcades were entrusted to him, and to his successful treatment of them with terra-cotta the subsequent popularity of that material was largely due. The new buildings for the South Kensington Museum gave further scope for the exercise of Sykes's powers, and upon the decoration of these he was engaged until his death. His most admired work at the museum is the series of terra-cotta columns which he modelled for the lecture theatre. Of these a set of photographs was published in 1866. His designs for the majolica decorations of the refreshment-rooms he did not live to complete. Some of his general schemes for the decoration of the museum were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1862 and 1864. Sykes's style, while based upon the study of Raphael and Michael Angelo, was thoroughly individual, and characterised by a fine taste and sense of proportion. He died at Old Brompton, London, on 28 Feb. 1866, and was buried in the Brompton cemetery. A watercolour drawing of a smith's shop by Sykes is in the South Kensington Museum. At the request of Thackeray he designed the well-known cover of the ‘Cornhill Magazine.’

[Gent. Mag. 1866, i. 604; Art Journal, 1866; Athenæum, 3 March 1866; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Bryan's Dict. of Painters and Engravers (ed. Armstrong).]

F. M. O'D.