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 John Henry Foley  (1818 - 1874)

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom/Ireland/England      Known for: monumental heroic statue sculpture

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John Henry Foley (1818-1874)

The first major figure in Irish sculpture, John Henry Foley was born in Montgomery Street, Dublin in 1818.  He is best known for his heroic and monumental statues, including that of Daniel O'Connell (The Liberato') on O'Connell Street, Oliver Goldsmith and Edmund Burke on the grounds of Trinity College, Dublin and Henry Grattan on College Green, Dublin.

Foley showed great talent at an early age and at 13 began to study modeling, architectural drawing, studies of the human form and ornamental design at the Royal Dublin Society, where he went on to win several prizes.

At the age of 17 he moved to London to continue his studies at the Royal Academy, where he was later to become an associate member in 1849 and a full member in 1858.  His first public success came in 1840 when he exhibited his Death of Abel and Innocence and Ino and the Infant Bacchus, which resulted in a commission from the Earl of Ellesmere, who wanted a version executed in marble for his collection at Bridgewater House.  This success was quickly followed by others, including Lear and Cordelia and Death of Lear, exhibited in 1841; Venus Rescuing Aeneas and The Houseless Wanderer, exhibited in 1842 and Prospero and Miranda in 1843.

When The Act of Union (1800) moved the center of power from Dublin to London, many Irish artists moved to London.  Foley, along with his contemporaries such as John Lawlor (1820-1901) and Samuel Ferris Lynn (1834-76), worked with British sculptors to produce large scale works including the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park. Among Foley's portrait sculptures, those considered to be the most important include that of Viscount Hardinge (Calcutta, 1858), Sir James Outram (Calcutta, 1864) and Lord Herbert (1864) in Waterloo Place.

Although a master in both stone and bronze, Foley's sculpture never quite reached the artistic heights of artists like Rodin or Michelangelo, but he did produce some wonderful no-nonsense style, monumental portraits.  This tradition continued into the twentieth century with the works of Irish sculptors Oisin Kelly (1915-1981), Hilary Heron (1923-77) and Seamus Murphy (1907-74) who pioneered the use of new casting techniques and promoted the concept of an Irish type of sculpture.

John Henry Foley died at Hampstead, London on 27 August 1874 and was buried in the Crypt at St. Paul's Cathedral.  It was declared in his obituaries that the death of a sculptor of such great skill to be a "national loss, for power to produce works so large and in so grand a style is very rare".  They praised his "careful and scholarly" work, "good, honest and intelligent workmanship" and "thorough sense of style".  On his death, which was a major blow to the history of Irish art, he donated his models to the Royal Dublin Society, and a significant portion of his property to the Artists Benevolent Fund.

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