A visit to Alfred Drury and the New Sculpture at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery

Image courtesy of www.speel.me.uk


Alfred Drury is regarded as one of the most important sculptors in British sculpture history. He is known as the person who led the New Sculpture Movement, which occurred around the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. Aimé-Jules Dalou and Alfred Stevens influenced Drury’s sculptural style and helped him to create his own world of sculpture. Alfred Drury and the New Sculpture doesn’t try to over-emphasise the significance of Alfred Drury within British art history. Instead, the exhibition explores not only Drury’s artwork, but also his friends Dalou, Stevens and hand-written letters from Auguste Rodin to show the context of the movement that emerged.

Before the emergence of the New Sculpture movement, British sculpture was largely influenced by the Greek and classical style. However, Drury started to make nude sculptures with realistic body ratios. At that time this realism was new and shocking to audiences, hence giving rise to the name of the New Sculpture movement.

At the entrance of the gallery, a timeline of Drury’s life is displayed on the wall with his important artworks and dates. Here one can find out when the golden time of his whole life was, and where to locate his artworks today. The sculptor had a strong connection to Leeds, with his work Even and Morn located at the Leeds City Square. This sculpture was commissioned by Colonel Thomas Walter Harding, who was Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1987.

Past the timeline, the small exhibition space had an atmosphere that I would describe through the words ‘warm’ and ‘a delicate touch’. This contrasts with my visit to the Rodin Museum in Paris, where the museum evoked strong and masculine images because Rodin’s style emphasises muscles and body parts. However, Drury’s works evoked warm and peaceful images, such as his various versions of mother and child sculptures.

The sculpture on the advertising poster is titled Griselda, who is posing with her eyes half-closed and a melancholy expression on her face. Griselda references a character from a story written by Boccacino. She was the ordinary daughter of poor farmer who later became a marchioness. However, the story of her life was not ordinary but full of hardships because her husband put her through much suffering. To examine Griselda’s endurance, he took her daughter and sons and told her that he had killed them, then kicking her out of his house due to her lower class background. However, these were all part of his test which Griselda passed to then formally become a marchioness. Due to these huge ordeals she appeared aged and exhausted, which is expressed in Drury’s sculpture. However, instead of showing her crying or upset, Drury minimises her expression, through his subtlety indicating a further sorrow hidden behind her eyes. This sculpture was exhibited at the Royal Academy once, but immediately after the exhibition, the artist Chantrey Bequest purchased it. Griselda’s statue became even more popular and was made in three different versions.

Besides Drury’s works, there are some artworks by his friend Dalou, whose different style offers the opportunity to compare and contrast these different sculptors. Although it is not a huge space, the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery showcases succinctly the power of Drury’s art and his place in the history of British sculpture.

Bo Kyung Kim

Alfred Drury and the New Sculpture
15 January – 12 April 2014
The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery
Parkinson Building, University of Leeds

Filed under: Art & Photography