Glasgow - City of Sculpture
By Gary Nisbet
George Edwin Ewing
(1828-84)

Born in Birmingham, on 8 July 1828, the son of the 'Sculptor, Artist' James Ewing and Ann Stow, he was the older brother of the sculptor James Alexander Ewing .

His childhood was spent in Edinburgh, where he lived with his family at 26 Bread Street, aged 13, in 1841. He and his family later moved to Glasgow, where they lived at 1 Antigua Street, whilst George and his wife, Sarah, lived at 3 Antigua Street, in 1851.

Details about his early education as a sculptor are scarce, but it is certain that he would have trained with his father, who worked as a 'Travelling Modelling Artist', throughout his youth. He eventually worked as a 'Travelling Artist' himself, prior to becoming a 'Sculptor'.

He worked in Liverpool and London, where he gained experience working in the modelling room of Covent Garden Theatre, before establishing a successful practice in Glasgow, in 1859.

After further study with John Gibson in Rome in the early 1860s, he returned to Glasgow in 1862, and thereafter became the most successful sculptor of his generation in Scotland, producing busts in marble of prominent Scots and the Royal Family. His portraits include:

Lord Clyde (1863); Lord Elcho; Daniel Macnee; Thomas Faed; John Baird, of Cambusdoon; and the Prince of Wales and Princess of Wales (1869), as well as prominent local figures, such as Sir Archibald Alison, the politician; Sir Charles Tennent, the chemical manufacturer; and Mrs William Sim (1862) and William Sim, Contractor to Glasgow Corporationís Police and Statute Labour Committee (1872).

His architectural sculpture in Glasgow is rare, much of his identified work having been destroyed as a result of their building's demolition.

These include a statue of St. Mungo, City of Glasgow Assurance Building, Renfield Street (1872, dem. 1929), and a statue of a Blind Girl and medallion portraits of Harry Rainey and William MacKenzie on the Eye Infirmary, Berkley Street (1874, dem. 1970s).

His surviving work includes the four portrait medallions of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on the Albert Bridge (1871).

Ewing's most important commission in Glasgow was for the statue of Robert Burns, George Square (1874-7), his only public statue in bronze, which was later completed with three bronze panels illustrating scenes from Burns' poems, by his brother, J A Ewing, in 1885-7.

Less well known are his monuments for cemeteries, with his most important identified work in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Pest, in Hungary. For Glasgow's Necropolis he produced the monuments to James Jamieson (1861); David Prince Miller (1865); and James Stephenson (c. 1870).

His monuments were sculptural, with Jamieson's featuring a seated, marble figure of a mourning woman, whilst the monument to the theatre impresario, David Prince Miller, is also marble but in the form of a colossal portrait bust on a massive pedestal.

His cemetery monuments elsewhere include a Celtic cross with a portrait panel of James Stevenson, a Glasgow chemical merchant, in Edinburgh's Dean Cemetery (1866); and Thomas Richardson in the cemetery at Pest, Hungary, which is surmounted by a bust and a portrait medallion.

Ewing exhibited his design for the Stevenson monument at the RGIFA , in 1873 (Cat. 682).

Joined by his brother James in 1875, they lived and worked together at various addresses in the city before George moved to the USA in 1879, for health reasons.

Prior to his departure, a farewell dinner was held for him on 23rd April 1879, during which he was presented with a watch and stated that he did not intend to stay away.

He worked in New York and Philadelphia but failed to achieve financial success there and became impoverished. He died suddenly at the Brevoort Hotel, New York, whilst working on medallion portraits of Sir Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. He was found dead in bed on the morning of 26th April 1884, with his room full of gas from a light jet that had been left on.

His funeral took place at St Luke's Protestant Episcopal Church, Hudson Street, New York, on 29 April, and his remains were afterwards buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn.

Ewing exhibited at the RA , 1862-79, the RGIFA , 1861-80, and RSA , 1859-80, and was also an accomplished painter, with works such as The Harem Beauty, The Colosseum seen through the Arch of Titus and A bread shop in the Roman Forum (1876).

A caricature portrait of Ewing sculpting a bust of Robert Burns was published in The Bailie magazine in its Men You Know series on 1st April, 1874 (pp. 1-2).


Sources:

  • The Bailie, Men You Know, No. 76, 1st April 1874, pp. 1-2 (ill.);
  • GCA : AGN 338;
  • GH , Presentation To Mr Ewing, Sculptor, 24th April 1879, p.4;
  • GWH , Death Of Mr George Ewing, Sculptor, 3rd May 1884, p. 3;
  • POD , 1859-82;
  • Groome [St Mungo], p. 138;
  • Nisbet: Gary Nisbet's City Of Sculpture, The Scots Magazine, Vol. 133, August 1990, pp. 441, 520-5 (ills.);
  • Nisbet, in McKenzie (2002) ;
  • Information from David A. Steel;

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