Gibson’s studio in Rome

John Gibson spent 48 years, almost all his artistic career, in Rome. His works in London collections, above all his bequest in the Royal Academy of Arts, are an important resource for the investigation of the studio practice of Rome-based sculptors during the 19th century.

Gibson’s studio, in the Via della Fontanella near the Spanish Steps, was modelled on those of Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen. Their practices reflect a significant change in the relationship between artist and patron that developed in the wake of the French Revolution. Rather than waiting for a patron to commission a work in an expensive material like marble or bronze, sculptors began to produce full-scale plaster models of their own ideas for compositions. This new approach freed them from the direct control of patrons and put greater emphasis on their own creative powers, an innovation that was hugely influential for subsequent generations of sculptors.

Like Canova and Thorvaldsen, Gibson ran a studio that was part workshop, part showroom. It became a well-known attraction for visitors to Rome, with one describing it as a ‘little bit of fairyland’ filled with ‘gleaming sculptures’. The drawings, plaster models and sculptures bequeathed to the Royal Acadmey of Arts, and partly on exhibtion from 8 September to 18 December 2016, reveal the various stages in his working process, while his account books list the names of the assistants engaged in the complex production of his sculptures. These notes show that some worked for both Gibson and Thorvaldsen, which helps to explain the strong similarities between the work of the two artists.