Lot 7
  • 7

Benjamin Edward Spence

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Benjamin Edward Spence
  • Highland Mary
  • signed and dated: B. E. SPENCE. FECIT. / ROMAE. 1859.
  • white marble, on a cream and beige painted wood base


possibly Mr. A. E. Borie, Secretary of the Navy, Philadelphia;
Eugene Leone, New York;
Sotheby's New York, 23 May 1994, lot 66

Catalogue Note

Highland Mary is inspired by the life of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796), who eulogised his undying love for the young Highland girl, Mary Morison, in a poem of the same title. It is said that Burns gave Mary a copy of the Bible at their last farewell, while they stood in a sequestered spot near the River Ayr. There they swore their faithful and undying love for each other, their hands clasping the Bible. Mary died an untimely death, after which the grief-stricken poet remembered their parting in verse:

Ye banks and braes and streams around/ The castle o'Montgomery,/ Green be your woods, and fair your flowers/ Your waters never drumlie!/ There simmer first unfauld her robes,/ And there the longest tarry;/ For there I took the last fareweel/ O'my sweet Highland Mary.

This romantic and sorrowful tale captured the imagination of the young sculptor. Spence's marble Highland Mary remains a testament in stone to the grief-stricken poet.

Benjamin Edward Spence was born in Liverpool, the son of the sculptor William Spence (1793-1849). In his early career he was sent to Rome, where he trained with the important neoclassical sculptors John Gibson (1790-1866) and R.J. Wyatt (1795-1850), and later established his own studio.

A poetic and touching subject, Highland Mary was Spence's most popular work. At least five versions in marble were made by the artist, the earliest dating to 1852. In 1854 Prince Albert commissioned a copy as a birthday present for Queen Victoria. Another version was exhibited at the French International Exhibition of 1855 and is now in the Palm House at Sefton Park, Liverpool.

T. Stevens, 'Roman Heyday of an English Sculptor', Apollo, September 1971, pp. 226-231; M. Greenwood, 'Victorian Ideal Sculpture 1830-1870', P. Curtis (ed.), Patronage & Practice. Sculpture on Merseyside, Liverpool, 1989; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Liverpool, Liverpool, 1997, pp. 206-207