Victorian and Edwardian sculptures of turtles, tortoises and terrapins are really rather unusual. I can only think of two works of public statuary which incorporate them. The first is in the pediment of the British Museum, where the sculptor, Sir Richard Westmacott RA, places a sea turtle in the sharp angle, to which its shape is admirably fitted. I think it is a Hawksbill turtle, from the shape of the head, the length of the front flipper, and the lack of the raised 'ribs' on the shell which would have placed it as a leatherback turtle.
Victoria Rooms turtle sculpture, Bristol.
Our second example is in Bristol, as part of the fountain in front of the Victoria Rooms, where admidst seaweed and coral and fishes and waves, we have a small, not particularly identifiable turtle. Its back looks more like that of a tortoise (land turtle), but of course we should have, in this environment, a sea turtle. I believe this to be the work of Henry Poole.
J. M. Swan's Leopard and Tortoise.
In terms of studio pieces, here is an example by J. M. Swan, known for his big cat sculptures. This one is called 'Leopard and Tortoise', and shows the leopard poking at and playing with the hapless chelonian. The work recalls, and perhaps is part of a series with, another, better known work by Swan called 'Puma and Macaw', where the bird is held tightly in the jaws of the cat. Such statuary emphasised the savage nature of the jungle beasts, and indicated the continual fight for life and death seen as the lot of the savage, untamed wilderness.
Finally, here is a fountain depicting two cherubic figures, one of whom has harnessed and is riding on a turtle. This is a novel take on the more usual infant riding on a dolphin, derived from Classical antecedents. Another example of a mid-19th Century boy on a turtle, much more unfortunately sized in terms of the size of the former to the latter, is in Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne, Australia.
Cherub riding a Turtle.
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