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The Hyde Park Corner Waterloo Soldiers of the Four British Nations, 1889
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The Hyde Park Corner Waterloo Soldiers of the Four British Nations, 1889

Measurements: Height: 44cm (17.25in) - 57cm (22.5in)

£25000

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Bronze. After Sir Edgar Boehm, R.A. Each figure representing one of the four British nationalities that fought under the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815; comprising, a Guardsman of the 1st Foot Guards, a Colour Sergeant of the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers, a Trooper  6th Inniskilling Dragoon, and a Private of the 42nd Royal Highlanders (The Black Watch). Cast by the art founders Elkington & Co. between 1889 and 1895.

In 1882 the Office of Works announced plans to redesign London’s Hyde Park Corner. Since 1846 a colossal and poorly conceived and executed equestrian statue of Wellington by Matthew Coates Wyatt had stood four-square atop Decimus Burton’s elegant triumphal arch utterly ruining its proportions. It had long been considered something of a national embarrassment especially when compared with the Arc de Triomphe. With Burton’s arch re-sited to its present axis further down Constitution Hill and with Wyatt’s statue banished to Aldershot, the need arose for a new equestrian statue of Wellington to be sited opposite Apsley House. A committee under the chairmanship with the Prince of Wales appointed the Queen’s Sculptor in Ordinary Sir Edgar Boehm to carry out the work, perhaps due to Boehm’s social acquaintance with the prince and his artistic sister Princess Louise.

The original contract provided for a plain, granite base only, but in November 1886 Boehm told fellow Royal Academician Sir John Everett Millais that ‘there is a proposal to put four soldiers of the Waterloo period - one on each corner.’ The idea suited Boehm’s instincts for realism over the use of allegorical figures or high ranking officers. Moreover, ‘It was a reaction against older elitism, towards a more realistic iconography, a military corollary of Realism, with its emphasis on ordinary people. Notwithstanding his [Wellington’s] attributed quotation about the playing fields of Eton, it was felt that Wellington owed much to the grizzled veterans, some of whom had been fighting under his command for as many as twenty years.’ And after all, ‘These and other veterans had contributed towards the Wyatt monument’ (Stocker, M. (1988), ’Boehm, Royalist & Realist’).

For accuracy in representing the uniforms and equipment, Boehm turned to the history painter Eyre Crowe, who was considered an authority on all things Napoleonic, asking for particular assistance with the guardsman’s bearskin, which he complained he could not get right. The finished result is far larger than the version worn during the Napoleonic period. It represents the type awarded to the 1st Foot Guards in the month after the battle when they also also gained by Royal Proclamation the name Grenadier in recognition of their repulse of Napoleon’s Old Guard Grenadiers at Waterloo.  

The monument was officially unveiled by the Prince of Wales on 21 December 1888 and judged an overall success, with the corner figures receiving the greatest praise. The journal ‘The Builder’, declared ‘The sculptor has steered quite clear of the commonplace dressed-up soldier figure that we frequently see in sculpture; these are fine, hardy types of men who have seen hard service and no more of war than its mere parade.’ The  contrasting impassiveness of Wellington and the liveliness of the soldiers was noticed by the ‘Art Journal’ which called the latter ‘dramatically demonstrative. In every case there is a distinct research of individuality of character. Most daring is the effect of life in the enkindled Celtic face of the cavalry officer [sic].’ The Royal Highlander and Welsh Fusilier Sergeant were considered to show similarly deft characterisation.

In response to their critical success Boehm exhibited two large plaster models of the Grenadier and Enniskillen Dragoon at the Royal Academy of 1889 and though criticised for their finish, they inspired enthusiasm for the bronze models of the present type. The Grenadier was produced in appreciable numbers of around 100 as the result of a regimental commission. Examples may be found in the National Army Museum, The Guards Museum and at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire. N.A.M. further holds a silver-gilt version of the  Royal Highlander (42nd Black Watch). The large plaster figure of the Dragoon is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. No other example of the bronze Fusilier nor Highlander is known.

Sir Edgar Boehm, Bt., R.A. (1834-1890) was born in Vienna, the son of the director of the Austrian Imperial Mint. He came to London 1848 and studied for three years, mainly at the British Museum; and afterwards in Italy, and at Paris, and Vienna, where he won the First Imperial Prize in 1856. In 1862 he settled permanently in London and later the same year first exhibited at Royal Academy. He took British nationality in 1865, and was appointed A.R.A. in 1878 and R.A. in 1882. He was a Lecturer on sculpture at Royal Academy and received the membership of several foreign academies.

Boehm enjoyed a constant flow of commissions for public monuments, portrait statues and busts and became Sculptor in Ordinary to Queen Victoria in 1881. His notable works include Lord Napier of Magdala in Queen’s Gate, Kensington; the Prince Imperial (killed in the Zulu War of 1879-80) in St George’s Chapel, Windsor; Gordon of Khartoum in St Paul’s Cathedral; Thomas Carlyle on Chelsea Embankment; the free standing figures of Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales on Temple Bar Memorial, Fleet Street; and the portrait head of Queen Victoria for the 1887 coinage. Boehm’s was close linked to Princess Louise, Queen Victoria's artistic daughter, who apparently was the first to find Sir Edgar’s dead body in his studio off the Fulham Road.
 

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