Harry Bates

(Stevenage, Hertfordshire, 26 April 1850 - 30 January 1899, St. John's Wood, London)



English sculptor. He served as an architect's clerk before his apprenticeship (c. 1866) as a mason and carver with the architectural sculptors Farmer & Brindley. In the firm's employ he travelled throughout the provinces in 1869-79, carving details on buildings. In 1879 Bates decided to make the transition from craftsman to artist and enrolled at the newly founded South London Technical Art School in Kennington (sic) for modelling classes run by the exiled French sculptor Jules Dalou and his successor William S. Frith (1850-1924). Like many of his contemporaries, Bates moved on to the Royal Academy Schools in 1881 and in 1883 won the Academy's Gold Medal Travelling Scholarship with a modelled low relief, 'Socrates Teaching the People in the Agora' (1886; marble version, U. Manchester).

Elected to the Royal Academy in 1892 as A.R.A. and was an active, if intermittent, member of the Art Workers Guild. He was a central figure in the British movement known as the New Sculpture.


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Harry Bates was born in Britain on 26 April 1850, at Stevenage in Hertfordshire. He began his career as a carver's assistant, and before beginning the regular study of plastic art he passed through a long apprenticeship in architectural decoration working from 1869 for the firm of Farmer & Brindley.

In 1879 he went to London and entered the South London School of Technical Art (formerly known as Lambeth School of Art, now the City and Guilds of London Art School). There he studied under Jules Dalou and won a silver medal in the national competition at South Kensington. In 1881 he was admitted to the Royal Academy schools, where in 1883 he won the gold medal and the travelling scholarship with his relief of 'Socrates teaching the People in the Agora,' which showed grace of line and harmony of composition. He immediately went to Paris, where he took up an independent studio (on Dalou's suggestion) (1883-1885). He was influenced by Rodin, who advised him on occasion about his work. A head and three small bronze panels (the Æneid), executed by Bates in Paris, were exhibited at the Royal Academy, and selected for purchase by the Chantrey Bequest trustees; but the selection had to be cancelled because they had not been modelled in Britain.

Bates returned to Britain in 1886, and was elected to the Art Workers Guild.

His 'Æneas' (1885), 'Homer' (1886), three 'Psyche' panels and 'Rhodope' (1887), all showed marked advance in form and dignity. Bates's primary skill lay in the composition and sculpting of relief sculpture, and it is in this medium that he achieved his most technically and æsthetically refined work. The freestanding ideal sculpture remained the most important of sculptural genres, however, and Bates gradually turned to statues such as the 1889 'Hounds in Leash,' which is essentially a relief composition translated to three dimensions. In this work, Bates demonstrated his ability to convey muscular intensity and movement and led to his greater success and ambition.

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BATES, HARRY, sculptor, born at Stevenage, Hertfordshire, on 26 April 1850, was son of Joseph and Anne Bates of that town. As a lad he was apprenticed as carver to Messrs. Bridley & Farmer of 63 Westminster Bridge Road, and worked between 1869 and 1879 on the ornamentation of many churches in course of building or restoration in the provinces. Returning to London, he was able to combine his work with attendance at classes in the Lambeth art school. Jules Dalou was teacher of modelling there, and, although Bates had only three months of his teaching, it is impossible not to regard this as a determining influence. The first head which Bates modelled at Lambeth obtained a silver medal from the South Kensington board of examiners. Dalou returning to Paris, Bates entered the Royal Academy schools. The authorities there soon gave him not only a gold medal but also a travelling studentship of 200l for his bas-relief representing 'Socrates teaching the people in the Agora;' this, done into marble, was subsequently presented to the Owens College, Manchester, by Mr. Alfred Waterhouse, R.A. Settling in Paris, Bates took a studio of his own, and, acting on Dalou's suggestion, obtained private tuition from Rodin. Rodin's influence proved smaller than might have been expected. 'Comparing the "Socrates" modelled in London with the Virgil reliefs modelled in Paris we find in the latter a greater freedom and flexibility . . . but the peculiar gift of their author is as traceable in the "Socrates" as in the "Æneas" and "Dido," and it is not a gift in the use of which Rodin could do much to help him. His conceptions fall naturally into balance and rhythm. They are not inspired with the energy, the melancholy, or the tragic humanity of the French master, but show a sympathy with line and a felicity in concentrating its powers so as to arrive at unity, to which there is no parallel in Rodin's works' (Sir Walter Armstrong).

The panels from Virgil form a sort of triptych in bronze, and, but for the fact of their having been executed in Paris, would have been purchased under the terms of the Chantrey bequest. This work, exhibited in 1885, was followed in 1886 by 'Homer,' a bas-relief, illustrating Coleridge's line: 'a blind old man, and poor,' and forming a companion to the 'Socrates,' which was shown at the same time. In 1887 appeared the three panels illustrating the story of 'Psyche,' which proved, if one might judge by the demand for framed photographs, to be his most popular work; in 1889, 'Hounds in Leash,' an important group (in the round) of a young man restraining his boar-hounds; in 1890, the design for the altar frontal Holy Trinity church, Chelsea; and in the same year 'Pandora,' which was bought by Chantrey's trustees, and is now in the Tate Gallery, Millbank.

In 1892, when Bates was elected associate of the Royal Academy, he exhibited a panel in relief, the 'Story of Endymion and Selene;' a design for the chimney-piece for which that work was intended; a marble bust of J. H. B. Warner, esq.; Guy's medallion in bronze; the memorial of James Tennant Caird; and a door-knocker in silver. In the same year, at the Grosvenor Gallery, he showed the head, cast in bronze, of the beautiful 'Rhodope.' At the same period, when his reputation was generally acknowledged, he was still very often employed upon decorative works for metropolitan buildings. The most notable of his latest works were the statue of the Queen for Dundee; a bronze bust of 'Field-marshal Lord Roberts;' and the equestrian statue of that general, now in Calcutta, which was set up in the courtyard at Burlington House during the exhibition of 1897. He also commenced a companion statue of Lord Lansdowne which was completed by Mr. Onslow Ford, R.A., and unveiled at Calcutta by Lord Curzon on 7 Jan. 1901.

Bates died on 30 Jan. 1899 at his residence, 10 Hall Road, St. John's Wood, N.W. He was buried at Stevenage on 4 Feb. He was prevented by illness from completing with his own hands all that he had undertaken, but his friends superintended, after his death, the business of casting the latest of his undertakings. That a sculptor, owing so much to French teachers, should have become famous for works so purely and perfectly English in feeling is proof in itself that he was more than merely talented.

[Portfolio; Artist, December 1897; Times, 1 Feb. 1899; Tate Gallery, official catalogue.]

Bates's statue of 'Pandora,' owned by Tate Britain but seldom displayed publicly. His next major statue, the 1890 'Pandora,' is more truly a figure in the round, and in this work Bates experimented with polychromy and mixed materials, making it self-consciously into a paradigmatic example of his artistic priorities. The box she holds is an actual decorative casket made of ivory and gilt bronze and elaborately carved with scenes from the Pandora legend. It was exhibited in 1890 at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and purchased within the following year for the Chantrey Bequest. The portrait-busts of Harry Bates are good pieces of realism: strong, yet delicate in technique, and excellent in character. His statues have a picturesqueness in which the refinement of the sculptor is always felt. Among the chief of these are the fanciful 'Maharaja of Mysore,' somewhat overladen with ornament, and the colossal equestrian statue of 'Lord Roberts' (1896) upon its important pedestal, girdled with a frieze of figures, now set up in Calcutta, and a statue of 'Queen Victoria' for Dundee. But perhaps his masterpiece -- in which his interest in polychromy and mixed materials in a format that fused decorative art and sculpture achieved its fullest realization -- was an allegorical presentment of 'Love and Life,' a winged male figure in bronze, with a female figure in ivory being crowned by the male.

Bates died in London on 30 January 1899, his premature death robbing English plastic art of its most promising representative at the time. He is primarily remembered as one of the most important sculptors working with the traditions of the decorative arts within the New Sculpture movement. Both through his innovative use of polychromy and his allusive subject matter, he is often understood to be one of primary representatives of international Symbolism within British sculpture.

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

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