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The man who brought marble sculpture down to size

By Christopher Proudlove ©

Cheverton ivory bust low res
Lady Rutherford low resBenjamin Cheverton, ceramics pioneer, c 1836-1860.

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by Christopher Proudlove©
Remember the pantograph from your childhood? I recall using one to copy maps from atlas to geography exercise book at school.

One arm acts as a small pointer while the other holds a drawing implement such as a pencil. By moving the pointer over a diagram, a copy of it was drawn on another piece of paper.

By changing the positions of the arms in the linkage between the pointer and pencil, the scale of the image produced can be reduced or enlarged.

Since its principals are based upon Euclidean geometry, it is possible that that the pantograph has been around for thousands of years.

Artists soon adopted its use to duplicate drawings and it is believed that Leonardo da Vinci used one to duplicate his drawings on to canvas.

Sculptors and carvers also adapted the pantograph to trace the outlines of drawings on to blocks of marble or wood as guides for carving.

Towards the end of the 18th century, pantographs were used to cut wooden letter blocks for use in typeset printed material and later still, pantographs were invaluable in the engraving of gold and silver objects, especially those not flat.

Sculptors subsequently developed the pantograph to duplicate low-relief carvings and by the 19th century, the so-called swing-arm pantograph was capable of duplicating complex pieces much faster and more accurately than by hand.

Michelangelo’s “David” was one of the most popular statues copied by this method as the Victorian era experienced an explosion of interest in reproductions of statuary from antiquity.

Portrait busts of famous figures in literature, politics and music of the day also became popular and the duplicating pantograph made actual marble busts affordable.

Enter one Benjamin Cheverton (1796-1876) artist craftsman, technician and entrepreneur who invented the Cheverton Reducing machine in 1836.

The great inventor and steam pioneer James Watt (1736-1819) had developed a machine to produce scaled-down copies of original works and Cheverton perfected the machine for commercial use.

Cheverton was himself a sculptor but also an engineer. His machine, not unlike an old treadle dentist’s drill, used parallel arms, one terminating in a probe and the other in a rotating cutting bit.

As the probe was moved over the full sized version of the sculpture, gearing caused its shape to be duplicated by the cutting arm.

Thus, a soft material such as ivory, plaster or alabaster anchored beneath the cutting bit would be carved with the precisely the same details but on a smaller scale.

Where multiple copies of the sculpture were required, the plaster model could then be used to produce a mould.

The success of the Cheverton Reducing Machine was the key to leading artists of the day accepting the idea of their work being copied and duplicated as many times as their was demand for it.

Patented in 1844, the machine was the toast of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Cheverton displayed its capabilities by making a reduced copy in alabaster of Theseus from the Elgin collection in the British Museum, for which he was awarded a coveted exhibition gold medal.

At about the same time – the history books plump for 1845, although the exact date is uncertain – a new highly vitrified, translucent, creamy-white ceramic body appeared on the scene which the Minton ceramic company christened Parian.

This had excellent moulding qualities which enabled modellers to capture the finest of detail.

When fired, the unglazed biscuit porcelain produced a finished article closely resembling marble … hence its name, after the marble from the mines on the Greek island of Paros.

Originally called Statuary Porcelain, the combination of Cheverton’s Reducing Machine and Parian brought classical sculpture within the reach of the masses. Soon just about every pottery company in the country was producing Parian ware.

However, Minton, together with Copeland and Garret, also of Stoke, were among the most productive and possibly proficient.

Christmas present for Queen Victoria


Both had displays at the Great Exhibition and when Queen Victoria visited the former’s stand, she purchased various Parian figures.

Also displayed was a parian figure of the Prince of Wales, a copy of an original by the sculptor Winterhalter. This was purchased by the Prince Consort as a Christmas present for Queen Victoria.

Many new models came into production, mainly through Herbert Minton’s association with Sir Henry Cole, who ran Summerly’s Art Manufacturers.

This was a marketing organisation founded in 1847 to encourage well known artists to design everyday goods for industrial production.

John Bell, Richard Redgrave and Richard Westmacott were among the designers who spent time at Minton supervising their work being made up in Parian.

The result today is an extensive array of statues and busts of characters from classical mythology, sport, politics, the arts, religion, royalty, business and industry, none of which could have been possible without Cheverton’s Reducing Machine.

Wisely, Cheverton appears to have resisted the temptation to sell his rights to it, choosing instead to control its output personally.

After his death in 1876, various other similar machines appeared, notably the Profilometre made by Frederic Sauvage.

However, being first, it is Cheverton who is regarded most highly by today’s collectors.

When biggest isn’t always best


Sometimes biggest isn’t always best. In 1992, a life-size Scottish marble bust of an unknown female sitter sold in a London auction for £825. In their last sale, Chester fine art auctioneers Byrne’s sold a five-inch version of the same bust – by now identified as Lady Sophia Frances Rutherfurd – for a staggering £14,950.
The price is believed to be an auction record for a bust by Benjamin Cheverton whose Reducing Machine enabled miniature copies of a sculpture to be produced as an exact copy down to every tiny facial feature and fold of clothing.
The miniature ivory bust was sent for sale by a couple who had owned it for many years, aware that it was made by Cheverton (it was inscribed with the fact on the base) but unaware of who he was or the identity of the sitter.
Byrne’s were able to shed light on both issues: Adrian Byrne studied Cheverton’s work at university and wrote his dissertation on the inventor and innovator, while research by partner Jo Boucher revealed the sitter to be the daughter of Sir James Stewart of County Donegal, Ireland and wife of Scotland’s Lord Advocate Andrew Rutherfurd.
Given her husband’s prominent position, Lady Rutherfurd was a noted Edinburgh hostess and the family’s close friends included Lord Jeffrey, Lord Cockburn, and the architect William Playfair.
The full-sized bust was the work of Sir John Steell (1804-1891) who was appointed Queen Victoria’s Sculptor in Scotland, and created many of the public statues in Edinburgh. They include the equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington outside Register House and that of Sir Walter Scott at the centre of the Scott Monument
On Lady Rutherfurd’s death in October 1852, Steell was commissioned by her husband to sculpt her portrait bust in marble and Steell made a death mask to assist in the process.
Steell had recently completed portrait busts of Lord Cockburn (1851) and Lord Jeffrey (1852) and during 1853, Steell also executed a bronze bas-relief panel featuring both Lord and Lady Rutherfurd in profile for their red granite funerary pyramid designed by William Playfair in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh.
Steell’s depiction of Lady Rutherfurd as a Roman matron was probably in view of her husband’s erudition and love of the antique. Lord Rutherfurd’s first design for his wife’s tomb was for a marble copy of an antique funerary urn on an altar.

Pictures show, top:
Benjamin Cheverton’s finely carved ivory miniature bust of Lady Rutherfurd after an original sculpture by John Steell. The ivory bust measures around four inches and is mounted on a five-inch black marble column, inscribed ‘J Steell, Fec.t/Cheverton Sc.’. It sold last week for £14,950. The full-size model for it fetched £825 in a London sale in 1992. (Photo: Byrne’s, Chester)

Above, left:
The Scottish marble bust of Lady Rutherfurd, sold in a London auction for £825 in 1992. (Photo: Christie’s Images)

Right:
A contemporary marble bust of Benjamin Cheverton, inventor of the Reducing Machine. (Photo:Science Museum, London)

Below, left:
A Copeland Parian figure of Clytie, in Greek mythology the mistress of the sun god Helios. Her jealousy of her sister Leucothea, who shared his affection, led Clytie to plot her sister’s death. Losing Helios’ love as a result, she died of despair and her body gradually took root and she metamorphosed into a plant, the heliotrope which always turns its head to the sun. The Victorians loved the myth and Clytie was in popular countless middle class drawing rooms. She’s worth £400-600

Right: Benjamin Cheverton’s reducing machine … think of a 3D pantograph

ClytieCheverton reducing machine low res

Tags: Benjamin Cheverton · Ceramics · Parian

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 l.hayward // Mar 21, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    I have seen only one such apparatus in a stone carvers shop. He is now dead. My work still goes on even after 45 years. Look up my site. It is getting redone soon.

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