Boehm the artist

Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, 1st Bt

Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, 1st Bt, by John Jabez Edwin Mayall, published by Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington; woodbury type; published in 1883

Thomas Carlyle

J. E. Boehm, John Ruskin, 1879–80.

Of Hungarian parentage, Joseph Edgar Boehm established his reputation in London as a medalist and sculptor. He studied medal design and modelling in London at a young age before returning to Vienna, where he received the Austrian Imperial Prize for sculpture in 1856. After settling in London permanently in 1862, he distinguished himself from the classicizing idealism commonly found in English sculpture by concentrating on carving in marble and modelling in terracotta; he devoted himself mainly to portrait busts, which became a specialty, and equestrian statuettes.

Boehm’s ability to reproduce his sitters’ emotions and expressiveness is shown in his statues’ realism and refinement, even in his first major piece, a portrait of William Makepeace Thackeray, 1864. He also sculpted many gentlemen notable in their day, such as James McNeill Whistler, John Ruskin, and Thomas Huxley. In 1869, Boehm’s achievements attracted the attention of Queen Victoria, and in the same year, he executed a colossal marble statue of the queen for Windsor Castle, displaying his attention to detail and adherence to the “truthfulness” of his subject. Boehm’s close association with the queen and his ability to cater to the tastes of his royal patrons gave rapid rise to his popularity among the aristocrats and the court: he received over forty royal commissions. Boehm became an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1878, was appointed Sculptor-in-ordinary to the Queen in 1880, and was finally elected Academician in 1882.

Boehm demonstrated his creative flexibility and artistic talent in his private commissions as well as his religious and memorial monuments. Of his fifty-seven public monuments, a life-sized statue of Thomas Carlyle for the Chelsea Embankment Gardens (bronze version, 1882) earned the sculptor unanimous praise at the Royal Academy in 1875 and became one of Boehm’s most famous works. The statue highlights the sculptor’s devotion to naturalism and his ability to ennoble his subjects’ character. 

Albertine Lee

Boehm the artist