Street View: 50
Address: 13 Wigmore Street
Humphrey Hopper, sculptor, regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy and from the entries in the Dictionary compiled by Algernon Graves(1), we can see where he lived from 1799 onwards:
1799-1800 : 55 Paddington Street
1801-1805 : 14 New Road, Fitzroy Square
1807-1813 : 3 Edward Street, Portman Square
1815-1834 : 13 Wigmore Street
Although he may not have entered any works at the Royal Academy after 1834, he continued to live in Wigmore Street until his death. We can see him sharing the house with Neville Daniell, dentist, in the Tallis Street View and in the 1841 census.
Hopper was best known for his plaster work, often copies of classical figures, but he probably also sold work by others. In 1820, an advertisement in the Morning Post of 26 May announces “A very beautiful copy of Canova’s Venus, of fine marble and exquisite Italian sculpture, lately consigned to this country for sale” which could be viewed at Hopper’s.
In 1828, an admirer of classical architecture, styling himself simply as E. wrote a letter to the editor of The Morning Post, professing himself pleased with the “restoration of Gothic architecture” by men such as Pugin and Kendal, but finds it surprising that “the interior of our Gothic piles [are] so destitute of those monument which would best harmonize with the character of the super-structure”, but there is hope. He has recently been to Hopper’s and was quite impressed by the Gothic monuments he saw there which “confer credit on the judgment of Mr. Hopper”.(2) Who this E. was remains unclear, but it would not surprise me if Hopper had one of his friends write this ‘letter’, or even if he did so himself. I can hardly imagine anyone else writing a favourable review like this. Hopper also put in ‘ordinary’ advertisements for his Gothic monuments for which he “hopes to obtain the patronage” of the “nobility and gentry”. Also ready for delivery are “statuary marbles for plain tablets, fronts, candelabra, &c”.(3)
But Hopper did not just make marble figures and monuments to be sold separately; he also provided the models for plaster casts which could be multiplied many times, such as brackets, medallions, or busts. Plaster casts had always been used by artists for teaching purposes, but in the 18th and 19th century, these casts provided a whole new market with a range of ornaments at affordable prices to decorate one’s home.(4) Although genuine marble or bronze statues and figures remained well beyond the financial means of the general public, (bronzed or marbled) plaster casts, or sculptures in cheaper material brought the classical world to more and more households. In a previous post, we have seen that another branch of sculpture, that of alabaster figurines, brought Italians such as Louis Baronto to London. But plaster was even easier than alabaster. All you needed was a good model from which a mould could be made. The work was considered to be below the ‘true’ artistic creativity and artists tended to keep quiet about this part of their output, although it no doubt provided welcome monetary relief. According to Clifford, “the most commonly encountered Regency plaster casts are those by Humphrey Hopper”. Clifford regards Hopper as “a competent but dull monumental sculptor who produced a range of bronzed and gilded candelabra … to support lamps”.
Hopper was the son of Humprey and Margaret Hopper and was baptised on 22 March 1765 at Wolsingham, Durham. Not much is known of his private life, but he seems to have remained single all his life. It is said that he first trained as a mason(5), but changed to sculpture later on and only started at the Royal Academy Schools in 1801. His contribution to the Royal Academy ranged from busts to chimney pieces and from classical figures to monuments. Hopper died on 27 May 1844 and was buried at Kensal Green on 3 June.
For a later occupant of 13 Wigmore Street, see here.
(1) A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts. A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and their work from its Foundation in 1769 tot 1904 (1906), p. 152.
(2) The Morning Post, 1 August 1828.
(3) The Morning Post, 1 June 1829.
(4) Timothy Clifford, “The Plaster Shops of the Rococo and New-Classical Era in Britain” in Journal of the History of Collections, vol. 4 (1992), pp. 39-65. See the Appendix to the article for a long list of Hopper’s output.
(5) A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain, 1660-1851
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