SIR ALFRED GILBERT R.A. | PERSEUS ARMING
Overall the condition of the bronze is very good with minor dirt and wear to the surface consistent with age. There are original stable casting joints at the tops of both arms and legs. There are also a few slightly visible original plugs. There are some minor scratches and abrasions to the patina. The proper left helmet wing detaches and there are traces of metal solder restoration. The patina is a little dry and would benefit from a wax. Minor pitting to the bronze.
The lot is sold in the condition it is in at the time of sale. The condition report is provided to assist you with assessing the condition of the lot and is for guidance only. Any reference to condition in the condition report for the lot does not amount to a full description of condition. The images of the lot form part of the condition report for the lot provided by Sotheby's. Certain images of the lot provided online may not accurately reflect the actual condition of the lot. In particular, the online images may represent colours and shades which are different to the lot's actual colour and shades. The condition report for the lot may make reference to particular imperfections of the lot but you should note that the lot may have other faults not expressly referred to in the condition report for the lot or shown in the online images of the lot. The condition report may not refer to all faults, restoration, alteration or adaptation because Sotheby's is not a professional conservator or restorer but rather the condition report is a statement of opinion genuinely held by Sotheby's. For that reason, Sotheby's condition report is not an alternative to taking your own professional advice regarding the condition of the lot.
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Perseus Arming is arguably Alfred Gilbert's most recognisable and desirable model. Although Gilbert's figure may never have been intended to have been viewed as explicitly erotic, the model is one of a number of elegant male nudes for which the sculptor is celebrated. A homoerotic reading is an obvious one, especially given that it was created in London at the time that Oscar Wilde was at the zenith of his career. The present cast is of the rare largest size.
The Perseus comprises one of Gilbert's three ‘autobiographical’ bronzes, the others being Icarus and Comedy and Tragedy. These three models represent Gilbert during his most creative decade from 1881 to 1892, from his mid-twenties to his maturity in his late thirties. The idea was, as Gilbert described it, to take ‘an old fable’ and move on from the literal text to ‘that which is implied'. Perseus and Icarus have direct mythological reference, whilst Comedy and Tragedy is an original subject with a clear Grecian reference in the mask of Tragedy. As a group their potency is created by Gilbert’s reinterpretation of classical subjects and artistic references, which whilst being timeless themes, we perceive through Gilbert's eyes, thereby making us see them afresh. So, in Perseus' attributes – the winged helmet and sandal –we clearly identify the mythological character, but the moment in which he is represented has no iconographic reference. Here he is shown in a moment of introspection, of vulnerability, of natural unselfconscious eloquence. It is a view of the mythological character which we have never seen before.
Gilbert made his plaster model of Perseus Arming in Rome in the winter of 1880-1 and exhibited the lost-wax bronze cast at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1882. It was received with critical acclaim both in London and at the Paris Salon the following year, where it earned Gilbert an honourable mention and secured his international recognition as the foremost British sculptor of his generation.
Commenting on his success in Paris, Gilbert wrote that it ‘gave me great encouragement to continue the task I had set myself- that was, to go on writing my own history by symbol’. Gilbert’s description of Perseus Arming continues: ‘I conceived the idea that Perseus before becoming a hero was a mere mortal, and that he had to look to his equipment’ and so Gilbert quite literally depicts Perseus looking over his shoulder to inspect his winged sandal: ‘a youth vulnerable, untested, but equipping himself for the trials of life’.
R. Dorment, Alfred Gilbert, New Haven and London, 1985, pp. 44-46; R. Dorment, Alfred Gilbert Sculptor and Goldsmith, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1986, pp. 106-8, nos 10-11; S. Calloway and L. Federle Orr (eds.), The Cult of Beauty. The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900, exh. cat. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2011, pp. 242-245