Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Ford, Edward Onslow

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FORD, EDWARD ONSLOW (1852–1901), sculptor, born in Islington on 27 July 1852, was son of Edward Ford (d. 1864) by his wife Martha Lydia Gardner. His family moved to Blackheath while he was still a child. His father, who was in business in the City, died when he was barely twelve. After he had spent some time at Blackheath proprietary school, his mother determined that he should follow the strong bent towards art which he had already shown. She took him to Antwerp, where she sent him to the Academy as a student of painting. From Antwerp they moved after a time to Munich. There Ford studied under Wagmuller, who advised him to transfer his attention to modelling, which he did. Before leaving Munich Ford married, in 1873, Anne Gwendoline, the third daughter of Baron Frans von Kreuzer.

On returning to this country about 1874 Ford settled at Blackheath, whence he sent a bust of his wife to the Royal Academy of 1875. This at once attracted attention, and from that time onward the sculptor's career was watched with interest. Beginning with the statue of Rowland Hill at the Royal Exchange (1881), his more important works are: ‘Irving as Hamlet’ (1883), in the Guildhall Art Gallery; ‘Gordon’ (1890), the group of the famous general mounted on a camel, of which examples are at Chatham and Khartoum; the Shelley memorial in University College, Oxford (1892); the equestrian statue of Lord Strathnairn at Knightsbridge (1895); and the memorial to Queen Victoria at Manchester (1901). Besides these monumental works Ford executed many busts, invariably marked by taste in conception, delicate modelling, and verisimilitude. The best, perhaps, are the heads of Millais, Huxley, Herbert Spencer, Orchardson, Matthew Ridley Corbett, the duke of Norfolk, Mr. Briton Riviere, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Sir Walter Armstrong, Sir Hubert von Herkomer, and M. Dagnan-Bouveret. Ford also modelled a series of bronze statuettes. In each of these he endeavoured to embody some playful fancy which was, occasionally, less sculpturesque than literary. The most successful, perhaps, of these are ‘Folly’ (bought by the Chantrey trustees and now in the Tate Gallery), ‘The Singer,’ ‘Applause,’ ‘Peace,’ and ‘Echo.’ He was one of the first English sculptors to publish small replicas of his statues, which did much to extend his reputation.

Ford was elected A.R.A. in 1888 and R.A. in 1895, and became a corresponding member of the Institute of France. His example had much to do with that awakening of English sculpture in the last quarter of the nineteenth century which had its initial impulse in the teaching of Dalou at South Kensington and was helped by Ford's great personal popularity. Like most sculptors he was physically powerful, although of medium height, but, also like most sculptors, he overworked himself, and probably shortened his life by the energy with which he set about not only his own work but that of other people. On the death of Harry Bates he undertook to complete some of that artist's unfinished work, just at a time when commissions were coming in thick and fast to his own studio. About the middle of 1900 he was attacked by a dangerous form of heart disease, which left him, after a year of more or less precarious health, unable to resist the attack of pneumonia from which he died at 62 Acacia Road, N.W., on 23 Dec. 1901. He was buried at East Finchley. He was survived by his mother, his wife, four sons, and a daughter.

The best portrait of Onslow Ford is a head by John Macallan Swan [q. v. Suppl. II], which is the property of the painter's widow. He was also painted by Mr. Arthur Hacker, R.A., Sir Hubert von Herkomer, R.A., Mr. J. McLure Hamilton, and others. A memorial obelisk, including a medallion portrait in profile by A. C. Lucchesi and a replica of Ford's own figure of Poetry from the Shelley memorial, was set up at the junction of Grove End Road with Abbey Road, in St. John's Wood.

[The Times, 26 Dec. 1901; Men and Women of the Time; personal knowledge.]

W. A.