Princess Louise: The career of a royal artist, part 4

25 March 2019
boehm-louise-c1885-21335.jpg Louise and Boehm circa 1885
In part 4 of our history series based on new research on the life of Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Ann Gailliard takes a look at how Louise's celebrated sculptures were produced, and her work with sculptor Joseph Edgar Boehm.

In part 4 of our history series based on new research on the life of Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Ann Gailliard takes a look at how Louise's celebrated sculptures were produced, and her work with sculptor Joseph Edgar Boehm.

Recent research has uncovered some interesting information. As well as some of Louise’s watercolours and an oil painting, the first item in the catalogue is of interest - see the below image which gives information from the Royal Academy, naming Louise's statue Victory and Peace.

The Foundry & production

H. Young & Co. Ltd. was a firm established as Henry Young & Co. in 1871. Henry was a Yorkshire engineer who worked as a foreman in the moulding department of Holbrook’s Manor Iron Works in Chelsea. Encouraged by a sculptor he knew, he established his own foundry in 1871. The firm soon succeeded and became used by the leading sculptors as well as for large scale corporate and government projects at home and abroad.

There were two iron works, one at Eccleston in Pimlico, which operated between 1873 and 1902, and the other at Hayle Foundry Wharf at Nine Elms, operating from 1877 until at least 1902. Not only did the firm specialise in fine work, but they expanded and diversified, building huge structures like bridges. It was a substantial business, by 1881 employing 146 men and 3 boys.

Perhaps the most famous of the works cast there were the lampposts and the two sphinxes for Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment and the Wellington Monument in St Paul’s Cathedral. Boehm became a frequent customer of the firm in the 1870s and many of his works were cast there. In a letter to James Whistler he named the firm as “my foundry”.

How were Louise’s three statues produced? It is known that at least one was made in the foundry of H. Young. Inevitably Boehm and the other sculptors Louise knew discussed their own satisfaction with the quality of works finished in the foundry. She would have seen for herself the finished artworks and was obviously happy to use the firm for her own work.

The Kilmun statue has an electroplate finish, one of the popular processes used by artists at the time; the Whippingham statue is said to be heavy bronze and is probably a solid casting; it is unknown how the St Paul’s statue would have been produced, but all the statues are metal.

The most common method of metal casting is the lost wax process, or cire-perdue. This is a very ancient process, and was used in India as long ago as 3.000 BC. The artist sculpts a model in clay and this is used to make a mould. The inside of the negative mould is brushed with molten wax to the desired thickness of the final bronze. The mould is removed, the wax shell filled with a heat-resistant mixture and ducts are inserted. 

The wax shell is then coated in plaster and the whole is put into a kiln which melts the wax which runs away through the ducts. The resulting plaster mould is held by a bed of sand and then filled by pouring molten bronze through the ducts. The process is of course more complicated than this simple description and requires skill to be carried out successfully. After the casting process the artist is able to make any necessary adjustments to the work, and intricate models can be made this way. The process is sometimes referred to as “Lost mould” because the mould is destroyed when the cast item is made.

If wax models were made from an original work by Louise, then several copies of the same original could be produced, and adaptations would be relatively simple to execute. When seen side by side in photographs, the three “angel” sculptures are remarkably similar. The intriguing question remains unanswered - are there any other versions of this stunning piece of art?

The electroplating method

The Kilmun statue was treated by the electroplating method, which is the process of coating a metal object with a thin layer of another metal (usually more expensive than the base metal) by electrolysis. It is done to give the original a better appearance and protects against corrosion and rusting. The method of electroplating sculptures was invented by Moritz von Jacobi in Russia in 1838, and became popular in this country during the 1850s. Fifty years later, at the time Louise made her sculptures, there were many small firms in London carrying out such work.

The process begins with filling a container with a solution of a salt of the metal that is to form the coating. For example, if copper is to form the coating, the solution will consist of copper sulphate. This solution is called the electrolytic bath, and the item to be treated is submerged in the bath. A metal bar, made either of the metal that is to form the coating or of a metal that is not affected by the bath, is also immersed. The entire apparatus is called an electrolytic cell. The object to be coated is connected to the negative terminal of an electric battery or other source of direct current, and becomes the cathode (the electrode through which negative charge enters an electrical device).

The metal bar is connected to the positive terminal of the electric power source and becomes the anode (the electrode through which negative charge leaves).When electric power is applied, electrolysis of the bath occurs and the metal content adheres to the surface of the cathode as it is removed from the bath. The process can be continued to thicken the covering layer.

The sculptor

Joseph Edgar Boehm was Hungarian by descent but was born in Austria. He became one of the foremost sculptors in Britain and one of the chief portraitists of royalty and the celebrities of the Victorian era.

Josef Daniel Böhm was a proud Hungarian, the son of a doctor who died when Josef was only 7 years old. His mother sent him out to work as an apprentice to a shopkeeper, but his inclinations were artistic and he took an interest in art, and when he was 19 moved to Vienna where he was admitted to the school of art. He had become expert at carving peach stones, which was fashionable at the time, and he developed his skills to medal engraving. He became a respected artist, and tutor, and as he amassed a considerable fortune he began a private collection of works of art which he used in his classes.

Included in the large collection were Egyptian bronzes, antique Roman reliefs, works by artists such as Durer and Rembrandt, Tintoretto, Van Dyck and Canaletto. It was regarded as the best of all private collections and it was inevitable that his enthusiasm and expertise would have an effect on his family.

The youngest son of Josef and his wife Maria was born on 4th July 1834 in Vienna, and he was named Josef Erasmus Böhm. The boy grew up surrounded by original works of art and his father encouraged him to paint and sculpt himself. After early studies in Vienna, the 14 year old Josef travelled to London to join his brother Wolfgang to complete their education at a new art school in Soho. His father had become Director of the Austrian Mint, and his hope was that Edgar should work with coins and medals and eventually join him in the mint.

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The young man had changed his name while in England and became known as Joseph Edgar Boehm. “Edgar”, being the Anglicised version of his middle name Erasmus. He returned to Vienna to continue his studies, and at the school of art was awarded first prize in modelling, ornamental and medallic art. In 1856 he was awarded the first Imperial Prize, and exemption from military conscription in Vienna. He started his own business making and selling statuettes, but had an urge to travel and spent some time in Italy then moved on to France. He was not idle during these years, and exposure to the different artistic styles fashionable in those countries influenced his work. With a rich father and an income of his own, Edgar lived comfortably and was able to support a family. He married Louisa Francis (Fanny) Boteler whom he met in Paris.

In 1862 Edgar exhibited in the Royal Academy and was building up friendships with established English artists such as John Everett Millais. He decided to settle in London. And encouraged by Millais, he sculpted a posthumous bust of William Thackeray which attracted attention and admiration. It did not take long for Boehm to decide that he wanted to live permanently in England, and he became a naturalised subject in 1865.

Boehm’s career took off quickly and he never looked back. He had a particular gift for sculpting portraits and equestrian statues, and in fact was held responsible for the popularity of racehorses and other sporting horses becoming subjects for sculpture  He loved horses.

Royal commission

With a wife, three daughters and a son to support, Boehm was happy to be earning a good income from portraiture. He made an equestrian statuette of Countess Spencer of Althorp which became all the rage, and eventually his work was noticed by Queen Victoria, a fellow lover of horses. She employed him to execute three commissions in 1869 and, recognising his reputation and talent, also asked him to act as tutor to Princess Louise.  This association with the Royal Family was to last until he died. It was a great success, especially since he had grown very fond of his adopted country.

In 1869 Boehm began work on an important statue of the Queen, destined for Windsor Castle, one of the earliest of his public monuments. From that time Boehm’s efforts were concentrated on large and ambitious works.

A statue of Thomas Carlyle is regarded as Boehm’s finest work, one of the greatest portrait statues of the century, and he himself regarded this work as his best. The statue is on the Chelsea Embankment and there is a marble version in the National Galleries in Edinburgh.  Commissions flowed in and Boehm was inundated with work.

A commission was received in 1876 for an equestrian statue of the Prince of Wales, intended  for the city of Bombay. With his passion for horses, the subject suited him perfectly and led to a reputation for equestrian sculpture which was unrivalled. There was no question that it should be Boehm who would be requested to carry out the important work of the statue of the Duke of Wellington for Hyde Park.

From a young age Boehm’s talents were recognised - aged 22, in 1856 he won the Imperial Prize at Vienna , he became Associate of the Royal Academy in 1878, and a full member in 1882. He was elected to Florence Acadamia, Rome and the Vienna Akademie, and he was made a baronet in 1889. His works can be seen in many prominent places in England, Scotland, India, and Australia and his career can only be described as very successful.

Financially Boehm did well, but his generosity to others, especially young artists, diminished his bank account. He entertained lavishly, owned good horses, and sent his son to Eton. He was able to finance two substantial houses, one in London, and one in the Surrey countryside. Ever the artist, he worked with the architect of both of these houses, R.W Edis, a Royal favourite who designed Sandringham.  Many of Boehm’s ideas were included in the buildings and he insisted in including the modern plumbing systems of Thomas Crapper.

Boehm as a person

What of Boehm’s personal qualities? People found Boehm physically attractive – a tall, slim good looking man who dressed elegantly. He was intelligent, amusing and modest; tactful, charming and equally at ease with royalty or commoner – in short, a man who would be welcomed into any social circle. He spoke several languages, and although he was uninterested in politics and claimed never to read a newspaper was a great conversationalist.  Despite his apparently very happy marriage, Boehm’s name was linked with several society ladies and he had several lovers. His friends included great artists like Whistler, Millais, Pointer and Sergeant but his most notable companion was Princess Louise.

The Royal connection established in 1869 was firmly cemented by Boehm’s appointment as Sculptor in Ordinary to the Queen in 1880. Queen Victoria loved his work, and there were many commissions for family portraits, as well as one for a statue of John Brown which is at Balmoral. The only time she was not happy with his work was when he designed her Golden Jubilee medal in 1887. It was not flattering.

Boehm was at Balmoral in 1869 working on the statue of John Brown who unfortunately took an instant dislike to him. Was he jealous of the admiration shown by Queen Victoria, or envious that Boehm’s charm was obviously so appealing to her?

When Boehm rode one of the mountain ponies kept on the estate, Brown accused him of riding it to death.  Ponsonby, the Queen's private secretary, described it as the "great pony row". That incident was minor in comparison with what happened later.

Boehm was by then tutoring Princess Louise and the two became close friends, bound together by their art and their ideas. They were found in a compromising situation and when the Queen learnt of it she angrily packed the Princess off to Germany to join her sister, the Crown Princess Frederick. This story came from “Skittles”, Catherine Walters, King Edward’s former mistress who was also one of Boehm’s conquests. Another woman linked with Boehm was the beautiful, talented Countess of Cardigan.

Attempts were quickly made to find Princess Louise a suitable husband. The marriage to Lord Lorne unfortunately did not satisfy Louise, and her flirtatious ways continued. She spent as much time as she could with the congenial Boehm – with her duties and his addiction to work this was not easy. It should also be remembered that Boehm had a wife.

Part 5: Louise and Boehm - a controversial friendship

About the author

With a background in NHS Personnel Management, Ann Galliard enjoys reading and writing about local history and World War I. She has had several articles and two books published (including Sandbank: War and Peace, a Scottish Village), researched & recorded the history of the Argyll Mausoleum  (the burial place of the Dukes of Argyll) and is currently writing a history of Ardkinglas. Recently a Committee Member of the WW1 Commemoration Steering Group for Argyll & Bute, and Organiser for the WW1 events in Cowal, she is a member of the Management Committee of the Friends of the Argyll Papers and volunteers in the Archive at Inveraray.

 The Argyll Papers at Inveraray Castle are the family and estate archive of the Campbell family, dukes of Argyll, and provide an unbroken record of nearly eight hundred years of the family’s fortunes from the 13th to the 21st century. The archive reflects the historically important role of the Campbell family in Scottish, British and international affairs, as well as documenting the history of the landscape of Argyll and its people. The archive is open to the public by appointment. Please contact the archivist, email or tel: 07943 667673.

The Friends of the Argyll Papers (Scottish Charity SCO45835) has been established to support the development of the Argyll Papers and to promote its use and enjoyment by a wide audience. Please help to support our work and secure the future of this very special archive by becoming a friend. Find out more at on the website.

(images - Boehm carte de visite copyright Rodelf; Carlyle statue copyright LonPicMan; John Brown statue copyright Drow69)

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