Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Bell, John (1811-1895)

BELL, JOHN (1811–1895), sculptor, was born at Hopton, Suffolk, in 1811, and was educated at Catfield rectory, Norfolk. He studied sculpture in the Royal Academy schools, and exhibited his first work at the Royal Academy, a religious group, in 1832. In 1833 he exhibited 'A Girl at a Brook' and 'John the Baptist' at the Academy, and two statuettes at the Suffolk Street Gallery, followed by 'Ariel' in 1834. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1836 'Psyche feeding a Swan' and 'Youth, Spring, and Infancy;' in 1837 'Psyche and the Dove,' and a model of 'The Eagle-Shooter,' the first version of one of his best statues. In 1837, the year in which Bell established his reputation, he also exhibited two busts, 'Amoret' and 'Psyche,' at the British Institution, Later works were 'Amoret Captive' (1838), 'The Babes in the Wood,' and 'Dorothea' (1839), a subject from Cervantes, which was repeated in marble in 1841 for Lord Lansdowne. Bell repeated 'The Eagle-Shooter' in 1841, and exhibited it with a 'David' in Suffolk Street, A 'Madonna and Child' (Royal Academy, 1840) was his first attempt at devotional sculpture. In 1841 he exhibited 'The Wounded Clorinda,' and in 1842 he repeated 'The Babes in the Wood,' which had become very popular, in marble. The latter work is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1844 Bell contributed his 'Eagle-Slayer' and 'Jane Shore' to the second exhibition at Westminster Hall of cartoons and other works designed for the decoration of the new houses of parliament. He afterwards obtained commissions for statues of Lord Falkland and Sir Robert Walpole (1854) for St, Stephen's Hall, Westminster, Among his other public works in London are a statue of Lord Clarendon at the Foreign Office, the Wellington monument in marble, with statues of Peace and War (1855–6), at the Guildhall, the Guards' Memorial in bronze (1858–60) in Waterloo Place, and the marble group of 'The United States directing the Progress of America,' part of the Albert Memorial, Hyde Park, a model for which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1869. A large copy of this work in terra cotta is at Washington. Two of Bell's chief works are at Woolwich, a marble statue of 'Armed Science' (1855), in the royal artillery mess-room, and the Crimean artillery memorial (1860) on the parade. A bust of Sir Robert Walpole (1858) is at Eton, and there is a large monument to James Montgomery in Sheffield cemetery. Many of Bell's best works are in private collections; for instance, 'Lalage' (1856) in Lord Fitzwilliam's collection at Wentworth Woodhouse; the bronze version of 'The Eagle-Slayer' at the same place; 'Andromeda' belongs to King Edward VII, 'Imogen' to Lord Coleridge, 'Eve' to Lord Truro.

Bell's earlier work had shown vigour and imagination, and a departure from the frigid classicism which had prevailed in English sculpture before his time; but his later works at the Royal Academy, such as 'The Cross of Prayer' (1864), 'A Cherub' (1865), 'The Foot of the Cross' (1860), 'Mother and Child' (1867), 'The Octoroon' (1868), 'The Last Kiss' (1869), show a decline in power, and are full of religious sentimentality or pseudo-classical elegance. He exhibited for the last time in 1879, Good engravings of some of his most popular statues, 'The Maid of Saragossa,' 'Babes in the Wood,' and 'The Cross of Prayer,' were published in the 'Art Journal.' Bell presented a collection of models of his large works to the Kensington Town Hall.

Bell took an active part in the movement which led to the Great Exhibition of 1851, and afterwards to the foundation of the South Kensington (now Victoria and Albert) Museum. He published 'Free-hand Outline,' 1852-4; an essay on 'The Four Primary Sensations of the Mind,' 1852; and 'Ivan III, a Dramatic Sketch,' 1855. In 1859 he received a medal from the Society of Arts for the origination of the principle of entasis as applied to the obelisk, A paper by Bell on this subject was published in 1858 as an appendix to an essay by Richard Burgess on the Egyptian obelisks in Rome. Bell's last literary work was a theoretical restoration of the 'Venus of Melos' (Magazine of Art, 1894, xvii. 16, with a portrait of Bell).

In private life Bell endeared himself to all who knew him. He had retired from the active exercise of his profession for many years before his death, which took place on 14 March 1895 at 15 Douro Place, Kensington, where he had resided for more than forty years.

[Times, 28 March 1895; Athenæum, 6 April 1895; Biograph, 1880, iii. 178-86.]

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