Victorian Sculpture Is Victorious At Tate Britain

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 39 months ago
Victorian Sculpture Is Victorious At Tate Britain ★★★★☆ 4
This brightly coloured elephant is typical of the over the top sculptures the Victorians commissioned.  A peacock in a similar style is located in the same room. © Thomas Goode & Co. Ltd., London
This brightly coloured elephant is typical of the over the top sculptures the Victorians commissioned. A peacock in a similar style is located in the same room. © Thomas Goode & Co. Ltd., London
This super-sized chess set shows Elizabeth I facing off with Philip II of Spain with ships as the chess pieces -- a clear reference to the Spanish Armada's defeat by the English Navy. © Tate
This super-sized chess set shows Elizabeth I facing off with Philip II of Spain with ships as the chess pieces -- a clear reference to the Spanish Armada's defeat by the English Navy. © Tate
Dame Alice Owen founded a school in her name in Islington and was immortalised in this statue by George Frampton. © Dame Alice Owen’s School
Dame Alice Owen founded a school in her name in Islington and was immortalised in this statue by George Frampton. © Dame Alice Owen’s School

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

Think Victorian sculpture, and our minds immediately jump to Frederic Leighton's athlete wrestling a python, one of the highlights of the Tate collection. It features in this exhibition and is a good benchmark for what Victorian sculpture was like — visually striking and with all the subtlety of a jewel encrusted pastoral staff, which happens to be another item on display in this show.

The show starts off slowly with medals, coins and busts of Queen Victoria made from different materials, but from then on in there is a selection of some breathtaking artifacts and sculpture. We're treated to an ostentatious silver jousting trophy, some fantastic carved wall reliefs and a shrine to Kali where the Hindu goddess of destruction pins one man down with her foot and holds the decapitated head of another.

This show can by typified by the silver and ivory St. George and Dragon, where the defeated beast's wings serve as the most ornate salt and pepper holders we've come across. It's overblown and over the top, but we loved it. The exhibition is by no means perfect and a room dedicated to drawings, photographs and a video devoted to public sculpture is an unnecessary addition and detracts from this otherwise tightly curated show.

This sculptural display is filled with amazing work, but it is likely to divide people between those who appreciate the aesthetics of the pieces and those who find the art garish and too flamboyant. For us, there was enough outstanding artworks in this exhibition, to make it a visual treat.

Sculpture Victorious is on at Tate Britain until 25 May. Tickets are £10.90 for adults, concessions available. Also just opened at Tate Britain is a selection of early photography in Salt and Silver.

For more art to see in London, see our most talked about and top 10 exhibitions for February.

Last Updated 26 February 2015