Thomas Woolner; one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood founding members

15th January 2018

If you’re regular readers of our blog, you’ll know that we like to do spotlight features every so often of the acquantancies of William Morris and the key figures at the time – such as the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. That’s why today, we’ll be discussing a key member of the movement – Thomas Woolner; one of the founding members of the Brotherhood – the only sculptor among the original members.

Born on the 17th December 1825, in Suffolk, Woolner was an English sculptor and poet.

He attended the Royal Academy Schools from 1842 and exhibited for the first time in 1843. Invited by Dante Gabriel Rossetti to join the Brotherhood, his contribution to the movement was his voice in emphasising the need for a more vivid form of realism in sculpture. Through Rossetti, he met William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais – since their views on art were able to be applied to his passion for sculpture, he accepted the membership to the group.

He married Alice Gertrude Waugh on the 6th September 1864. Initially, he proposed to her sister Fanny, but she turned him down and instead married his Pre-Raphaelite colleague William Holman Hunt the following year. When Fanny died a year later, Hunt married their third sister – Edith – which Woolner considered immoral as it was defined as incest under the British Laws at that time, leading Woolner to never speak to Hunt again. Woolner and Alice had six children together – four daughters and two sons.

Along with his love for sculpture, he was also a keen poet, and contributed to ‘The Germ’- the Pre-Raphaelite magazine. Leaving to Australia, he was seeking a wealthier life as he was struggling to make a living in England – his ‘brothers’ in the Pre-Raphaelite movement drew a collection of portraits of each other to send him, portraits that are now famous! Returning to England in 1854, just a year after he left, he now had a well known reputation as he’d been commissioned both there and elsewhere for statues of British Imperial Heroes; including Captain Cook and was now able to establish himself as a sculptor of intellectuals – his work includes the for Wordsworth, Tennyson and Darwin, amongst others.

He died aged 66 from a stroke, his wife Alice died in 1912. Their son Hugh travelled back to his home in New York after her funeral. He travelled back on the RMS Titanic and survived the sinking of the ship.