Gordon of Khartoum - Hero and Christian Martyr, 1889
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Height: 37cm (14.25in)
Signed and dated Hamo Thorneycroft 1889 on integral base. The present bronze figure of Major-General Charles George Gordon, C.B., (1833-1885) is a reduced scale model of the statue on Victoria Embankment by Sir William Hamo Thornycroft, R.A. (1850-1925). The figure depicts the Governor-General of the Sudan in pensive mood dressed in short frock coat, a pair of binoculars slung over his left shoulder, Bible in hand, and left foot raised on a broken artillery piece. His famous cane - ‘the wand of victory’ - that he carried in China in more than thirty engagements with Taiping rebels, is tucked under his left arm. The obverse of the base is inscribed ‘Charles George Gordon’ and the reverse ‘Published by Arthur Leslie Collie, 39b Old Bond St., London May 6 1889. Sir William Thornycroft’s account book for the year 1890-91 is both a testament to a success of his collaboration with the art dealer Collie, and both Gordon’s status as a national hero.
For all of Charles George Gordon’s Christian zeal he proved refreshingly pragmatic when it came to challenging the enigmatic Mahdi for the control of the Sudan in the mid 1880s. Such became evident in 1884 upon his recall by an unpopular British government looking for a cheap expedient by which to extricate itself from its extended responsibilities. Gordon proposed a deal with a former adversary - the Sudanese warlord Zubeir Pasha - knowing better than anyone that the jihad was really no more than a rebellion against Egyptian oppression and his own handiwork in destroying the Sudanese slave trade some years earlier. Not only was Zubeir a leading member of one of the most powerful slaving tribes, the Jaalin, he also had strong connections with Egypt, claiming descent from the former ruling dynasty. Gordon told the British and Egyptian authorities they could either abandon the Sudan to the theocratic Mahdi with whom it was impossible to deal, or hand it to the worldly Zubeir with whom they could. Regrettably for Gordon, his suggestion was rejected.
Gordon was every bit as odd in his beliefs as his nemesis. He was an ardent Christian cosmologist who believed, amongst other things, that the Earth was enclosed in a hollow sphere with God's throne directly above the altar of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Devil inhabiting the opposite point of the globe near Pitcairn island in the South Pacific Ocean … Nonetheless his evacuation of European nationals from Khartoum and the conduct of a defence lasting ten months and terminating in his death won him many admirers.
Sir William Hamo Thornycroft, R.A., (1850-1925) belonged to the Thornycroft family of sculptors and was brother to naval engineer John Isaac Thornycroft, their sister, Theresa, was the mother of the poet Siegfreid Sassoon. Hamo trained at the Royal Academy Schools where his primary influence was Frederic Leighton. He won the Gold Medal of the Royal Academy in 1876, with the statue Warrior Bearing a Wounded Youth. He was the leading figure in the New Sculpture movement and was one of the youngest artists to be elected to the Royal Academy. After 1884, Thornycroft's reputation was secure and he received commissions for a number of major monuments, most notably the innovative General Gordon, originally sited in Trafalgar Square but moved during the Second World War to make way for the temporary exhibit of a Lancaster bomber. In 1953 Thornycroft’s Gordon was relocated to its current position at Victoria Embankment Gardens (Whitehall Extension), London S.W.1.
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