This impressive terracotta model was made by the neo-classical sculptor Joseph Gott in preparation for a portrait of one of his most important patrons, George Banks (1777-1843). Gott, a pupil of John Flaxman, was a major European sculptor based principally in Rome. Commissioned in 1827, Gott’s seated marble sculpture of Banks was made for his new home, St Catherine’s, near Doncaster. The present maquette is a substantial terracotta model made as the final study for the finished sculpture. The composition itself is both monumental and domestic, Gott depicts Banks in a classical pose and yet retains the contemporary character of a modern man of business. As Friedman and Stevens pointed out, the sculpture of Banks and his sister, Elizabeth Goodman Banks: ‘represent Gott’s most remarkable achievement in this field.’ Adding that it is in this sculpture of Banks that Gott: ‘has brilliantly captured in the bold modelling and bull-like, north country features, an industrialist as an aspiring patron of the arts. It is strongly reminiscent of Thorvaldsen’s contemporary portraits.’
Joseph Gott was born in London, although his family were originally from Yorkshire and his second cousin was Benjamin Gott, a major patron of the arts and a leading textile manufacturer in Leeds. Joseph Gott was apprenticed to John Flaxman in 1798 when he was 12; he left Flaxman in 1802 and entered the Royal Academy Schools in March 1805. In 1822 Gott was sent to Rome on a pension from the President of the Royal Academy, Sir Thomas Lawrence. Gott arrived in Rome armed with two letters of introduction to Antonio Canova, from J. T. Smith and Lawrence who praised Gott’s ‘Talent if not Genius’ and the ‘blameless Integrity & Worth of his private Character.’
Gott achieved considerable success in Rome, attracting commissions from British visitors to the city, including William, sixth Duke of Devonshire, who ordered A Greyhound with her Two Puppies now at Chatsworth. In 1827 Gott returned to Britain, where he met George Banks and his sister, Elizabeth. Banks was a major cloth merchant; he was Deputy Lieutenant of the West Riding, a member of the Leeds Volunteers and, in 1818, Mayor of Leeds. Banks moved in the burgeoning artistic circles of Leeds in the 1820s, he was a friend of the great collector John Sheepshanks and made numerous purchases at the exhibition of the Northern Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts.
At the date Banks met Gott, he had recently purchased an estate near Doncaster and commissioned designs for a new house, to be called St Catherine’s, from the Edinburgh-trained architect, John Clark. In the hall Clark included two gothic niches specifically designed to receive Gott’s sculptures of George Banks and his sister Elizabeth. The present terracotta model was made in preparation for the final sculpture. Gott cast Banks in a classical pose, seated on an antique stool, his coat arranged in the manner of a toga across his knees. This pose instantly recalls Roman precedents. Gott would have known the great sculpture of a seated figure, traditionally identified as a depiction of the Greek dramatist, Menander, in the Museo Pio Clementino. It was a format Gott adopted for a number of contemporary portraits, including a terracotta model for a monument of Benjamin Gott and in a finished monument to William Ewart at St James’s Chapel, Liverpool. As Friedman and Stevens identified, the portrait is far removed from the austere classicism of Gott’s friend and contemporary, John Gibson, coming in its modernity and informality closer in spirit to the romantic portrait sculpture of Thorvaldsen. Gott was also almost certainly aware of Antonio Canova’s portrait of Letizia Bonaparte, which had been acquired by his patron, William, sixth duke of Devonshire. Gott used it as the model for his portrait of Banks’s sister, Elizabeth, whose portrait was designed as a pendant to that of her brother.
Gott’s preparatory terracotta model is close to the finished sculpture; the head is covered in pointing marks, suggesting it was used directly as a guide for the marble. Finely modelled and carefully finished, the terracotta is a rare and important surviving study from the most fertile moment in Gott’s career. Another model of Banks survives in plaster, a cast possibly made from the present terracotta. Banks remained a major patron of Gott’s, commissioning a number of other sculptures including an important bas relief, Metobus and Camilla which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1828 and installed on the staircase at St Catherine’s; he was still supporting Gott in the 1840s, acquiring large scale sculptures of Mary Magdalene and St Catherine.
- Terry Friedman and Timothy Stevens, Joseph Gott 1786-1860: Sculptor, exh. cat., Leeds (Temple Newsam House), 1972, p.31.
- Terry Friedman and Timothy Stevens, Joseph Gott 1786-1860: Sculptor, exh. cat., Leeds (Temple Newsam House), 1972, p.57.
- Edward Baines, History, Directory & Gazetteer, of the Country of York, Leeds, 1823, p.39.
- See Terry Friedman and Timothy Stevens, Joseph Gott 1786-1860: Sculptor, exh. cat., Leeds (Temple Newsam House), 1972, cat. no.25, p.32.
- Terry Friedman and Timothy Stevens, Joseph Gott 1786-1860: Sculptor, exh. cat., Leeds (Temple Newsam House), 1972, pp.31-33.