William Reynolds-Stephens’s bronze bust of former Canadian Prime Minister Sir John Alexander Macdonald was praised in an 1897 article on the sculptor in ‘The Magazine of Art’:
‘Even in a portrait bust, such as that of Sir John Macdonald, he has successfully sought in the device of the scroll some means whereby to relieve the conventional pedestal of its usual ugly formlessness. The treatment of the head is good and elaborately modelled…’
The bust was executed during Macdonald’s lifetime and is said to have been ‘very highly thought of by Lady Macdonald’. After Macdonald’s death, sculptor William Reynolds-Stephens entered an open competition to design a memorial to Macdonald, to be erected in Montréal. However, the project was won by British sculptor, George Wade.
During a visit to London by Canadian Prime Minister Richard Bedford Bennett, first Viscount Bennett (1870–1947) in 1930, Bennett purchased this bust and presented it to the British Government, with the intention that it would be placed at Earnscliffe, the official residence of HM High Commissioner of in Ottawa and former home of Macdonald. A niche was cut into the wall of the residence for its display and it remains there to this day.
Although Sir William Reynolds-Stephens was born to English parents in Detroit, Michigan, his family moved to London, where he trained as an engineer, before entering the Royal Academy Schools. From the mid-1890s he concentrated on sculpture and design, maintaining a lifelong belief in the ideals of the Arts and Crafts Movement. He was elected to the Art Worker’s Guild in 1888 and became a versatile artist and designer, designing interior schemes, furniture, textiles, etc; while also sculpting statuettes, portrait busts, funerary monuments and war memorials. He was a founder of the Society of British Sculptors in 1904. He served as President of the Royal Society of British Sculptors (1921-33) and received a knighthood in 1931. He died at 81.
Sir John Alexander Macdonald (1815-1891) Prime Minister of Canada 1867-73, 1878-91
height: 62.00 cm
Presented by the Rt Hon R B Bennett, Prime Minister of Canada, December 1930
on socle, left: London 1893 [?] W. Reynolds-Stephens.
Purchased from the artist by Prime Minister of Canada Richard Bedford Bennett, Viscount Bennett (1870-1947), in 1930 (to Commemorates the 'battle' for Earnscliffe of 1929-30); by whom presented to Earnscliffe, the High Commission building, on its acquisition by HM Government in 1930
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