Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Turnerelli, Peter

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TURNERELLI, PETER (1774–1839), sculptor, born at Belfast in 1774, was the grandson of an Italian political refugee named Tognarelli, and his father (who changed the name to Turnerelli) practised as a modeller in Dublin and married an Irishwoman. Peter was educated in Dublin for the church, but at the age of seventeen, on removing to London with his family, became a pupil of Peter Francis Chenu, the sculptor, and a student at the Royal Academy, where he gained a medal. In 1797 he was appointed, on the recommendation of Benjamin West, to instruct the princesses in modelling, and he resided at court for three years, during which time he executed busts of all the members of the royal family. At the conclusion of his engagement, in 1801, he was appointed sculptor in ordinary to the royal family, but declined an offer of knighthood. He was subsequently employed in a similar capacity by the Princess of Wales. In 1802 Turnerelli exhibited at the Royal Academy a bust of the youthful Princess Charlotte, and thenceforward enjoyed a fashionable and lucrative practice, chiefly as a modeller of busts. Among his many distinguished sitters were the Duke of Wellington, Prince Blücher, Count Platoff, Lord Melville, Erskine, Pitt, and Grattan. In 1809 he sculptured the ‘jubilee’ bust of George III, now at Windsor, of which eighty copies were ordered by various noblemen and public bodies; also the companion bust of the queen, and in the following year a statue of the king in his state robes. When the czar of Russia was in London in 1814 he visited Turnerelli's studio and ordered replicas of his busts of Blücher and Platoff for the Hermitage Gallery. In 1816 he was commissioned to execute the ‘nuptial’ busts of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold, and the former gave him a sitting at his studio on the morning of the wedding. Among his later works were a medallion of Princess Victoria at the age of two, and busts of Lord Aberdeen, Lord Palmerston, and Daniel O'Connell; the last was extremely popular, and ten thousand plaster copies of it are said to have been disposed of in Ireland. Turnerelli did some good monumental work, and when in 1814 a committee was formed to erect a memorial to Burns at Dumfries his design—a figure of the poet at the plough—was selected and carried out. Other good examples of his ability are the monument to Colonel Stuart in Canterbury Cathedral, and that to Sir John Hope in Westminster Abbey. At the accession of George IV he was again offered and again declined knighthood. He was appointed sculptor to the kings of France, Russia, and Portugal.

Turnerelli was a constant exhibitor at the academy from 1802 until his death, which occurred, after a few hours' illness, at his house in Newman Street, London, on 20 March 1839. He was buried in the graveyard of St. John's Chapel, St. John's Wood. Though throughout his career he earned a large income, he saved little and died intestate. His effects were therefore sold by auction and most of his models and moulds purchased by Manzoni, who reproduced them in large numbers. Turnerelli, at the suggestion of West, introduced the practice of representing sitters in their own dress, instead of the conventional classic drapery. His busts of Wellington and Melville were well engraved in mezzotint by Charles Turner and John Young respectively; engravings of his monument to Burns and his medallion of Princess Victoria were published in the ‘European Magazine,’ vols. lxx. and lxxx. He married, first, Margaret Tracy, who was a claimant to the Tracy peerage, and died in 1835; secondly, a relative of the Earl of Clare. By his first wife he had a son, who is noticed below. A portrait of Turnerelli, painted by S. Drummond, was engraved by J. Thomson for the ‘European Magazine,’ 1821.

Edward Tracy Turnerelli (1813-1896), son of Peter Turnerelli, was born in Newman Street, London, on 13 Oct. 1813. For a time he studied modelling under his father and at the Royal Academy, but in 1836 went to Russia, where he spent eighteen years, visiting, under the emperor’s patronage, the most distant parts of that country and sketching its ancient monuments. He returned to England in 1854, and, obtaining an independent income by his marriage with Miss Martha Hankey, devoted the remainder of his life to politics as an ardent supporter of conservative principles. In 1878 he earned notoriety as the projector of a scheme for presenting a ‘people's tribute’—in the form of a gold laurel wreath—to the Earl of Beaconsfield in recognition of his services at the Berlin congress, but the earl declined to accept the gift, and the wreath was left on Turnerelli’s hands. Turnerelli died at Leamington on 24 Jan. 1896. He wrote : 1. ‘Tales of the Rhenish Chivalry,’ 1835. 2. ‘Kazan, the Ancient Capital of the Tartar Khans,’ 1854. 3. ‘What I know of the late Emperor Nicholas,’ 1855. 4. ‘A Night in a Haunted House,’ 1859, and many political pamphlets. In 1884 he published his ‘Memories of a Life of Toil, or the Autobiography of the Old Conservative.’

[European Mag. 1821, i. 387-93; Gent. Mag. 1839, i. 548; Autobiography of Tracy Turnerelli; Times, 25 Jan. 1896; Exhibition Catalogues; Jerdan's Autobiogr. p. 118.]

F. M. O'D.