In this contemplative work, the young Icarus casts his gaze downward as he prepares to fly off the edge of the precipice. In Greek myth, his father, the craftsman and inventor Daedalus, fashioned wings of wax for both himself and his son, so they could escape their imprisonment by King Minos of Crete. In Alfred Gilbert’s sculpture, the youth firmly grasps the wings, which frame his body, and stands with weight on one foot and body deflected in a sinuous curve. Icarus was modeled on the statue of the young David by Italian Renaissance sculptor Donatello—also depicting a slim elegant youth on the brink of manhood. In choosing this subject, Gilbert imagined Icarus’s mindset as akin to his own. He is recorded as stating “It dashed across me that I was very ambitious: why not ‘Icarus’, with his desire for flight.”
The sculpture was commissioned by the artist Frederic, Lord Leighton, in 1882, and is perhaps a tribute to his recent canvas on the same theme (illustrated below). Leighton’s house, where the first version of this sculpture resided, was decorated in high Aesthetic movement style and contained decor that signaled the owner’s homoerotic tastes. Both Gilbert and Leighton belonged to a closely aligned group of writers and artists—among them Algernon Swinburne, Oscar Wilde, and Walter Pater—who are now seen to be members of what has been coined as queer Aestheticism, one of the most influential and creative art movements of the last half of the 19th century.
From the 2019 exhibition Emulating Antiquity: Nineteenth-Century European Sculpture, curated by Katherine W. Hart, Senior Curator of Collections and Barbara C. & Harvey P. Hood 1918 Curator of Academic Programming
Emulating Antiquity: Nineteenth-century European Sculpture, Engles Family Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 26, 2019-February 23, 2020.
Ivan Albright Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, April 15, 2008.
Ivan Albright Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, May 23-June 22, 1997.
Ivan Albright Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, September 16, 1997-June 6, 1999.
Ivan Albright Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, September 26, 2003-May 8, 2006.
Ivan Albright Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, September 3, 1999-August 1, 2000.
Roger Arvid Anderson, The Roger Arvid Anderson Collection, Medals, Medallions, Plaquettes and Small Reliefs, Paintings, Sculpture, Works on Paper and Textiles, San Francisco: Roger Arvid Anderson (published privately), design by David L. Wilson, 2015, p. 278-279.
Peter Nahum at The Leicester Galleries, London, England; sold to Roger Arvid Anderson, San Francisco, 1994; lent to present collection,1996; sold to present collection, 2016.
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