Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm

1st Baronet, R.A.

(6 July 1834 - 12 December 1890)

Medallist and sculptor, best known for the Jubilee head of Queen Victoria on coinage, and the statue of the Duke of Wellington at Hyde Park Corner.

Boehm was born in Vienna of Hungarian parentage. His father was director of the imperial mint in Vienna. After studying the plastic art in Italy and at Paris, he worked for a few years as a medallist in Vienna. In 1856, he was presented with the Austrian Imperial Prize for Sculpture, the start of his distinguished career.

After a further period of study in England, he was so successful as an exhibitor at the 1862 International Exhibition that he decided to devote more time to portrait busts and statuettes, chiefly equestrian. He moved to England in 1862, and became a British subject three years later. A colossal statue of Queen Victoria, executed in were his earliest great works, and so entirely to the taste of his royal patrons that he rose rapidly in favour with the court. He became an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1878, was appointed sculptor in ordinary in 1881 and was elected to the Royal Academy in 1882. In 1889 he was created a baronet, of Wetherby Gardens in the Parish of St Mary Abbots, Kensington, in the County of London.

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In 1887, he designed and executed the model for the dies for a series of coins, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the queen's reign. The coins are signed J.E.B. below the shoulder. This design was severely criticized by his peers as well as the public. It was replaced in 1893. The coins depicted the royal arms in the order of the garter on the reverse. As a result, the sixpences were frequently gilded and passed off as gold half sovereigns. Therefore, the sixpence reverted to its standard design.

A speciality of Boehm's was the portrait bust; there are many examples of these in the National Portrait Gallery. He was often commissioned by the Royal Family and members of the aristocracy to make sculptures for their parks and gardens. His most important works include St George and the Dragon, which can be found outside the State Library of Victoria, and Francis Drake. His large sculpture of the stallion King Tom (1874) was commissioned by Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild for his new mansion, Mentmore Towers, and moved to Dalmeny House in 1882.

There are many statues by Boehm in London. For the memorial to General Charles George Gordon in St Paul's Cathedral, he carved an effigy of Gordon recumbent on a sarcophagus. His equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington at Hyde Park Corner, unveiled in 1888 was commissioned to compensate for the removal of the colossal sculpture of the Duke by Matthew Cotes Wyatt from the nearby Wellington Arch to Aldershot. On the death of Dean Stanley, Boehm was commissioned to execute his sarcophagus in Westminster Abbey. Among his ideal subjects, the “Herdsman and Bull” is notable.

Boehm's most famous pupil was the Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, daughter of Queen Victoria. She was at his house, at 76 Fulham Road in London, when Boehm died suddenly on 12 December 1890, provoking unsubstantiated press speculation about a sexual relationship between the two.

Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Boehm, Sir Joseph Edgar". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press; The London Gazette: no. 25953, 12 July 1889; Biographical dictionary of medallists: coin, gem, and seal-engravers, mint-masters, etc., ancient and modern, with references to their works B. C. 500-A. D. 1900, compiled by Leonard Forrer, London: Spink & son ltd., 1904; An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland; Dimock, Arthur (1900). The Cathedral Church of St. Paul An Account of the Old and New Buildings with a Short Historical Sketch. Bell's Cathedrals. London: George Bell and Sons; Details from listed building database; "Hyde Park Corner", The Times, 21 July 1884; Armstrong, Walter (1901). "Boehm, Joseph Edgar". In Sidney Lee. Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement​. London: Smith, Elder & Co.


The Times
13th December 1890
We announce with much regret the sudden death yesterday afternoon, in his studio in the Fulham-road, of the eminent sculptor Sir Edgar Boehm, R.A. The body was first discovered by her Royal Highness Princess Louise (Marchioness of Lorne). The Princess, who formerly studied the art of sculpture with Sir Edgar at his studio, has since paid him occasional visits, and yesterday evening arrived at a quarter to 6 o’clock, having given previous notice of her intention. Her Royal Highness walked straight to the studio, and was horrified to see the apparently lifeless body of her late instructor. The Princess immediately summoned Mr. Gilbert, A.R.A., who occupies and adjoining studio. Sir Edgar was then in a comatose condition. He was kneeling on the floor, with his hand resting on a couch. He was laid upon the couch, where he expired, apparently from heart disease. Mr. Gilbert sent at once for Dr. Norman M’Caskie, of Sydney-place, South Kensington, and for the deceased’s solicitor, Mr. John Guscotte, of Onslow-square. Dr. M’Caskie found that life was quite extinct. The resident commissionaire at the studio, John Parker, who usually took Sir Edgar’s lunch, spoke to the deceased at about 4 o’clock, when Parker was lighting the lamps. Sir Edgar then appeared in his usual good health, and said to Parker as he entered his studio, “I am expecting Princess Louise, and will wait here for her Royal Highness.” Sir Edgar had been previously working on a horse which was to have been completed for one of the Rothschilds. Only last Monday he completed a statue of the late Emperor Frederick, which is expected to be erected at Windsor. Sir Edgar was not known to be in bad health, but he had lately experienced more than one severe shock; last summer the death of his wife, and only a fortnight ago in that of his brother, an inspector at the Museum, Berlin. Blows of such a kind, and so sudden, are not borne with impunity by man whose mental energies are habitually strained, as were his, to the uttermost by hard and trying work.

Joseph Edgar Boehm was of Hungarian parentage, and was born at Vienna in 1834. His father was a medalist and Director of the Mint, and was in his day a well-known collector of works of art. The boy was trained as an artist from the beginning, deriving no little help from his father’s collection and being much stimulated by his father’s keen interest in art. Together they travelled much in Italy, and there the lad’s taste for sculpture definitely declared itself. He came to England in 1848, and remained here three years, deriving immense advantage from the daily study of those Parthenon marbles in the British Museum which some sentimental people are now so anxious to give back to Greece. In 1853, at the age of 18, he received his first Imperial prize in Vienna, and from that time worked hard in designing and executing coins and medals. In 1859 he went for three years to Paris, and there, in the capital of modern art, he lived a life that was full of interest and that had the most beneficial effect upon his talent. Then came the London Exhibition of 1862, at which Boehm, then becoming well-known, was a successful exhibitor. He had now abandoned coins and medals, and was giving his mind to portrait busts and statuettes, chiefly equestrian. It was these that most attracted the attention of the Queen, and Boehm rapidly rose in favour with the Court. He rapidly became known to the general public also, where the very qualities with which artists found fault – especially the somewhat too pictorial quality of his art – gained him notice and favour. His success may be said to have been established in the year 1869, when he was commissioned to place a colossal statue of the Queen in Windsor Castle, together with a monument of the Duke of Kent in St. George’s Chapel; and to execute bronze statuettes of all the Royal Family for her Majesty. His first very important public work was the statue of John Bunyan for Bedford (1872); then followed a colossal “Duchess of Bedford,” in gilt bronze, for the park at Woburn, and his first London statue, that of Sir John Burgoyne for Waterloo-place.

In 1878 Boehm was elected an A.R.A., and if any justification could be required for this election, it is to be found in the magnificent statue of Carlyle which was exhibited soon afterwards. The fine character of this statue attracted notice at once, and Mr. Ruskin only echoed the general opinion when he pronounced it a work of genius. Cast in bronze, it is now placed on the Thames Embankment at Chelsea, not far from the little house where Carlyle lived and died. By the time that this statue was exhibited it may be said that Mr. Boehm’s place in the estimation of the public and of his brother artists was assured. Commissions poured in upon him, from the Royal Family, from the Government, and from private persons. Among many works which he executed after this date it is enough to name a few; colossal statues of Lord Napier of Magdala and of Lord Northbrook for Calcutta; a marble statue of King Leopold I. of Belgium for St. George’s Chapel; a recumbent figure of Princess Alice and her child, for the mausoleum at Frogmore and for Darmstadt; and a statue of the Prince Imperial. It was at first intended to place this in Westminster Abbey, but as will be remembered, great opposition to the idea was expressed in Parliament and elsewhere, and the matter was settled by the removal of the statue to St. George’s Chapel. Of Boehm’s outdoor statues in London, executed about this time, it is enough to mention that of William Tyndale, the Reformer, for the Thames Embankment, and that of Lord Lawrence for Waterloo-place. In the latter case, being dissatisfied with the effects of the first statue, Mr. Boehm, at his own expense, replaced it by another. In 1882 he became full Academician; in 1881 he was appointed Sculptor in Ordinary to the Queen; the Academies of Florence and Rome had already elected him a member; and he received medals at Vienna and elsewhere. On the death of Dean Stanley he was charged with the making of his tomb; and the result, a recumbent statue, was one of the most admirable pieces of portrait sculpture that our age has produced. This beautiful statue was repeated for Rugby chapel.

More recently, Mr. Boehm (who was created a baronet in 1889) has been prominently before the public as maker of the new Wellington statue at Hyde Park-corner, and of the jubilee coinage. We will not attempt to say that either of these is successful; but it is well known that in the case of the coinage he was greatly hampered by his instructions. The Wellington statue is a good portraiture, and the horse is true to life; but the whole work is a failure from the point of view of design, the four soldiers at the base being mere excrescences, and forming no part of the pedestal. The sculptor has been better seen in many of his animal studies: such as the sea-lions in Sir J. E. Millais’s house, Lord Leicester’s lion and lioness, and the life-size bull with its leader which was in the Royal Academy a few years ago. We must not omit to mention his medallions and medals, several of which have been extremely successful.

Sir Edgar Boehm will be greatly missed both in the world of art and in society, where his genial manners and great conversational gifts made him a general favourite. He married, in 1860, Frances Louisa, daughter of Mr. Boteler, of Liverpool, and was left a widower this year. His son, Edgar Collins, born 1869, succeeds to the title.

The Times
22nd December 1890
The newspaper reported that the cortege comprised of five mourning carriages and several private carriages, and Robert Glassby, along with two other professional staff of Sir Edgar were in the fifth mourning coach:

On Saturday, in accordance with the special request of the Queen, the late Sir Edgar Boehm, R.A., was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral, in the south aisle of the crypt, the spot being known as “The Painters Corner.”

The funeral cortége left the residence of the deceased at about 11 o’clock, there being five mourning and several private carriages. In the first carriage were the chief mourners, Sir Edgar Collins Boehm, the only son of the late baronet, and Mr. Conrad Herapath. The second and third carriages were occupied by Sir Frederic Leighton, P.R.A., Sir Nigel Kingscote, Mr. Richard Mills, Colonel Francis Baring, Mr. Alma-Tadema, R.A., Sir R. H. Collins, Mr. Edward J. Poynter, R.A., and Mr. Duncan MacGregor, all of whom subsequently, at the cathedral, acted as pall bearers. The fourth carriage contained representatives of the Council of the Royal Academy – Mr. Edwin Long, R.A., Mr. J. B. Burgess, R.A., Mr. F. Goodall, R.A., and Mr. Beavis. In the fifth carriage were the following members of the professional staff of the deceased – Mr. R. Glassby, Mr. E. Lantéri, Signor Finili, and Herr Gross. The cortége stopped for a few moments at the Royal Academy, in order that it might be joined by two carriages containing other representatives of the institution. Leaving Piccadilly, the route taken was Waterloo-place, Pall-mall, Cockspur-street, the Strand, Fleet-street, and Ludgate-hill, the cathedral being reached about noon.

The procession was met at the great west door by Canon Gregory, the Archdeacon of London, the Rev. Dr. Baker, Minor Canons Milman, Russell, and Kelly, and the choir, who had a few minutes previously left the vestry; by Major Bigge, Equerry to the Queen, representing her Majesty; Colonel Stanley Clarke, who attended on behalf of the Prince and Princess of Wales; and Colonel W. J. Colville, representing the Duke of Edinburgh. The Princess Louise (Marchioness of Lorne) attired in deep mourning, and accompanied by Lieut.-Col. Arthur Collins and Lady Sophia Macnamara, arrived at the cathedral a few minutes before 12 o’clock, and was conducted to a seat in the south side of the nave, close to the late Sir Edgar Boehm’s two daughters, upon whom her Royal Highness had called earlier in the morning. As the procession came slowly up the nave towards the chancel, “I am the resurrection of life” and other sentences of the burial service were chanted to music by Dr. Croft. The coffin, which was completely hidden by splendid wreaths, was preceded by the choristers and the clergy. Then followed Sir E. C. Boehm, with Mr. Conrad Herapath and Mr. Alfred Gilbert, A.R.A., the officers and council of the Royal Academy, and members of the deceased’s studio. The coffin was deposited upon a bier, which had been placed under the dome in front of the opening into the crypt, through which the body was subsequently lowered. The mourners having been conducted to the seats which had been reserved for them, and the clergy and choir having proceeded to their places in the chancel, Psalms xxxix. and xc. Were sung to music by Purcell and Felton, followed by Spohr’s anthem, “Blest are the departed,” and the lesson 1 Cor. Xv. 20, which was read by Canon Gregory. Whilst the hymn “Days and moments quickly flying” was being sung the Archdeacon of London and Minor Canon Milman proceeded from the chancel and took up positions by the side of the coffin. The remainder of the service preceding and following the lowering of the body into the crypt was read by Minor Canon Milman, and the collect was impressively recited by Archdeacon Sinclair. The late Dr. Newman’s beautiful hymn, “Lead kindly light,” was afterwards sung by the choir, and the service was brought to a close by Beethoven’s Funeral March, which was played in compliance with the special request of her Majesty, at whose desire also Chopin’s Funeral March had preceded the service. Dr. Martin was the organist.

While Beethoven’s march was being played the son and daughters of the late “Sculptor in ordinary to her Majesty,” together with other mourners, descended the crypt by the door near Howard’s monument, and saw the coffin for the last time. It bore the following inscription:- “Joseph Edgar Boehm. Born July 6, 1834; died at his work December 12, 1890. Thy will be done.” The coffin had already been deposited in the brick grave prepared for it, which is next to that of Sir Edwin Landseer. Immediately around it lie the remains of painters and sculptors of bygone days -- Sir Joshua Reynolds, James Barry, Benjamin West, Henry Fuseli, Sir Thomas Lawrence, J. M. W. Turner, and John Henry Foley, while within half-a-dozen yards is the tomb of the great architect of the cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren. The coffin as last seen was covered by the floral tributes of loving friends, the symbolic laurel wreath forwarded by her Majesty surmounting them. This bore the inscription, “A tribute of gratitude for many beautiful memorial works executed for her. From Victoria, R. I.” Attached to the beautiful wreath sent by the Prince and Princess of Wales were the words, “A token of sincere regard and friendship.” Wreaths were forwarded by other members of the Royal Family, by Sir John and Lady Millais, Lord and Lady Reay, the Countess Sydney, Lord and Lady de Vesci, Mr. Henry Irving, Mr. and Mrs. Bancroft, by members of the council, students and officers of the Royal Academy, the Society of Artistic Sculptors (Vienna), and by the London Hungarian Association.

We know from William J. J. Glassby’s “Sheffield Miscellany” that his father Robert had been engaged on the marble statue of Emperor Frederick, and this had just been completed at the time of Sir Edgar Boehm’s death. The Graphic, 20th December, 1890

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