About the Project

Welcome to the Gibson Trail, a virtual, interactive exhibition on the sculptor John Gibson RA (1790-1866). The project connects all works of Britain’s leading 19th century sculptor in London collections for the first time. The website provides an interactive map, detailed info on Gibson’s works and explores relationships between the works, today spreadamong different collections.

The website is generously supported by an international partnership between the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities in Vienna and the University of Vienna.

The Gibson Trail coincides with the exhibition John Gibson. A British Sculptor in Rome in the Tennant Gallery and the Council Roomat the Royal Academy of Arts from 8 September to 18 December 2016.

John Gibson RA (1790-1866)

John Gibson, born on the 28th of January in 1790 near Conwy in Wales was the son of a market gardener, William Gibson, who moved to Liverpool in 1799. He was as woodcarver at Southwell and Wilson and worked as stone mason with Samuel and Thomas Franceys. Supported by the humanist and banker William Roscoe, he showed his works at the exhibitions of the Liverpool Academy from 1810. Roscoe introduced Gibson to the ideas of Renaissance art and philosophy, allowed him to study his collections at Allerton Hall and strongly encouraged him to continue his artistic career in Rome.

The sculptor moved to Italy in 1817 and settled in Rome, where he remained until his death in 1866. He was trained and supported by sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822), and was captivatedby the city’s lively artistic community and the unrivalled collections of ancient art. Soon after his arrival, he opened up his studio inVia della Fontanella 4 and was introduced by Canova to important patrons as William Spencer Cavenidsh, 6th Duke of Devonshire or Sir George Beaumont. He also frequented the circle of Bertel Thorvaldsen and became soon an important member of the Roman artistic community.

Gibson made his first back trip to Britain after 27 years, in 1844. He was introduced to the Royal couple, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who supported the artist in the following years. The sculptor played anactive role in Anglo-Roman artistic exchange and took part in international artistic debates, such as the discussion about the use of colour in classical statues. He was also involved in international exhibitions of the second half of the 19th century, being a member of the jury for the sculpture section at the Great Exhibition of 1851, where he presented his Greek Hunter. In 1862 he showed his polychrome works in a pavilion designed by Owen Jones at the International Exhibition.

By the time of his death, Gibson was a member of fourteen international Academies, his portrait adorned the façade of the Glyptothek in Munich and he was certainly the most famous British sculptor of his generation. He never returned to England and died on the 26thof January in 1866 in Rome, where he was buried at the Protestant Cemetery.


We would like to thank our partners, contributors and supporters: the British Museum, the V&A, Tate Britain, the National Portrait Gallery, Westminster Palace and Westminster Abbey.