2. Domestic Affliction. Monument to Lady Shuckburgh-Evelyn

UCL Museums self-guided tours: Art Museum

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Domestic affliction. Monument to Lady Shuckburgh-Evelyn

Domestic Affliction. Monument to Lady Shuckburgh-Evelyn, 1978, John Flaxman (1755 – 1826), Plaster model

Mounted in the bottom right-hand corner of the South-east wall of the Flaxman Gallery, UCL Main Library.

This work is an impressive example of Flaxman’s ability to depict individual grief in a timeless, classical way.

Flaxman was one of the first British sculptors to use plaster models in the design of his monuments. He had learned the craft from his father, a plaster-cast maker for a number of sculptors in London. Traditionally, British sculptors would model their design in clay, and then the fragile clay models would be fired. As this was an expensive and risky practice, Flaxman had the clay models cast in plaster instead. He worked on the plaster models himself and directed assistants to work on the final sculptures, rarely working the marble himself. This means the plaster casts are where his sculptural art can be seen most vividly and examples left in his studio on his death serve as important examples of his creative process.

Flaxman’s plaster models are either small sketch models of whole monuments or larger-scale models of the figures alone. He kept the plaster models in his studio as records of his work but also as samples for clients interested in commissioning similar work. In some cases, it is possible to trace the evolution of Flaxman’s design from an initial drawing through a series of models in different formats.

Flaxman’s monuments were designed to reflect the life and beliefs of his subjects and to express his own moral and religious convictions. This was achieved in a variety of styles from a Neo-classical serenity expressed through simple grandeur and balanced rhythm, to a Gothic revival style inspired by medieval art and conveying a pure and simple religious feeling. Flaxman’s distinctive skill was to combine timeless Neo-classical and religious motifs with vivid evocations of his subjects’ public and domestic lives. In this example, the individual grief of a mourning daughter for her mother has been transformed into a poignant, moving and timeless memorial.