Details of Sculptor

Show Works
Surname Philip Alternative Surname
First Name John Birnie Initial of Surname P
Year of Birth/Baptism 1824 Flourished
Year of Death 1875
Biographical Details A successful mid-Victorian architectural sculptor, he was born in London on 23 November 1824, the son of William and Elizabeth Philip. He entered the Government School of Design at Somerset House at the age of 17, where he studied under John Rogers Herbert, RA. Herbert later resigned from the Government School to open his own school in Maddox Street, London and Philip was one of the students who moved with him to the new school. Philip married Frances Black, of whom little is known, but one of their daughters became the wife successively of EW Godwin, the architect and designer, and James McNeil Whistler, the painter.
He was first employed in AWN Pugin’s wood carving department at the Houses of Parliament, where he worked on gothic architectural ornament, but he was soon able to set up his own studio. His principal commissions were for architectural sculpture and church monuments, but he also carved several portrait statues and busts and at least one ideal work (24). He frequently worked with the architect George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) and is best known for the sculpture he provided for Scott’s Albert Memorial (51). The sculptor apparently held Scott in high regard, for it was at his suggestion that a portrait of Scott was included in the Architects frieze of the Albert Memorial podium.
Philip exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1858 until 1875. During the early part of his career he had a studio at Hans Place, Knightsbridge, but later he moved to Merton Villa, King’s Road, Chelsea where he died of bronchitis on 2 March 1875. He is buried in Brompton cemetery.
A number of sculptors employed in Philip’s workshop either went on to work for other established sculptors and architects or became independent sculptors in their own right. The best known is Edwin Roscoe Mullins (1848-1907). Robert Glassby (1835-1892), who assisted with the podium reliefs for the Albert Memorial, later worked as an assistant to Henry Weekes, Carlo, Baron Marochetti and Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834-1890) and after Boehm’s death succeeded him as sculptor to the Queen. Philip’s chief assistant modeller, Signor Fucigna, oversaw the completion of works which were in progress in Philip’s studio at the time of his death, including the statue of Edward Akroyd for Halifax (25) and he subsequently worked for the architect William Burges at Cardiff Castle and Castel Coch.
Philip is not well known today, possibly because so much of his work was architectural, and thus subservient to the architect’s designs. However, his podium frieze for the Albert Memorial was well received by contemporaries. The Art Journal of 1874 remarked ‘he has so arranged the figures as to present a series of distinct groups, yet all forming one harmonious whole. There is not a single figure which will not repay close examination, while each leads the eye to a given point of special interest. All give evidence of close study, beauty of composition, and great artistic ability.’ (AJ, 1874, 56)
Literary References: AJ, 1874, 56; DNB 1896, XLV, 158; Gunnis 1968, 300-1; Handley Read 1970, 276-9; CIIA 4/2/iii; Ormond and Rogers 3, 1979-81, 165; Read 1982, passim; Grove 24, 1996, 604-5 (Stocker); Trumble 1999, 739-48; Trumble 2000, 20-8; Brooks 2000, passim; ODNB (Turpin)
Additional MS Sources: Whistler Papers, c1853-75, A194, B256, B258, B58-61, C136, C198, C200, D27, H230-1, L150, P282-299, P591, P706, S129, S300, W823, X64
Wills and Administrations: PPR, will, 17 April 1875, fol 341, effects under £3,000
Portraits of the Sculptor: RL, John Philip Sculpting the Podium Frieze, 1872, Museum of London (repr Brooks 2000, 195); two woodcuts after photographs, one for ILN, 13 March 1875, BM; several photos, Whistler Papers, c1853-75, PH1/163, PH1/27-29, PH8/1
Help to numbers in brackets