Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Philip, John Birnie

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PHILIP, JOHN BIRNIE (1824–1875), sculptor, son of William and Elizabeth Philip, was born in London on 23 Nov. 1824. His family was originally Scottish, but had been long settled in England. At the age of seventeen he entered the newly established government school of design at Somerset House, where he studied under John Rogers Herbert, R.A. [q. v.], and when the latter resigned his mastership and opened a school in Maddox Street, Philip was one of the pupils who seceded with him. His earliest work was done in the houses of parliament, then in course of erection, and this brought him into contact with Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin [q. v.], by whom he was much influenced. Philip first appeared at the Royal Academy in 1858, sending an alto-relievo of Michael and Satan for the tympanum of the porch of St. Michael's Church, Cornhill, and a bust of Dean Lyall, and during the next five years exhibited recumbent effigies of Queen Catherine Parr (for her tomb at Sudedeley Castle), Canon Mill (for Ely Cathedral), and the Countess of Pembroke and Lord Herbert of Lea (for Wilton Church). Among his other public commissions were the reredos of Ely Cathedral (1857), the monument to Sir Charles Hotham at Melbourne (1858), the reredos of St. George's Chapel, Windsor (1863), the monument to the officers of the Europa in York Minster (1868), a bust of Richard Cobden for the Halifax Chamber of Commerce (1867), statues of Lord Elgin and Colonel Baird for Calcutta, eight statues of kings and queens for the Royal Gallery in the Palace of Westminster, the statues on the front of the Royal Academy, Burlington House, and (in conjunction with Mr. H. H. Armstead) the whole of those on the façade of the new foreign office. In 1864, when Sir Gilbert Scott's design for a national memorial to the Prince Consort in Hyde Park had been accepted, Philip was one of the sculptors who were engaged to carry it out, and to this his time was almost exclusively devoted for eight years. To him and Mr. Armstead was entrusted the execution in marble of the friezes on the podium, Philip undertaking those on the north and west sides, which were to represent the great sculptors and architects of the world; this work, which he completed in 1872, and by which he is best known, was received with well-deserved admiration, the figures, eighty-seven in number, being most picturesquely and harmoniously grouped and carved in high relief with great skill. Philip also modelled for the canopy of the memorial four bronze statues of Geometry, Geology, Physiology, and Philosophy, and the eight angels clustered at the base of the cross on the summit. Philip did much decorative work in other directions, such as the capitals of the columns on Blackfriars Bridge and some of the ornaments on the new general post office. In 1873 he sent to the academy a classical subject, ‘Narcissus,’ and in 1874 a figure of a waiting angel and a marble panel entitled ‘Suffer little children to come unto Me;’ his last work was the statue of Colonel Akroyd, M.P., erected at Halifax. During the early part of his career Philip occupied a studio in Hans Place, but later he removed to Merton Villa, King's Road, Chelsea; there he died of bronchitis on 2 March 1875, and was buried in the Brompton cemetery. Philip married, in 1854, Frances Black, and left issue; one daughter was wife of James A. M. Whistler, the painter and etcher.

[Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Art Journal, 1875, p. 144; Dafforne's Albert Memorial, its History and Description, 1877; Royal Academy Catalogues; private information.]

F. M. O'D.