An Alphabet of Allegorical Sculpture - G is for Grief

Grieving figures are common in sculpture, found in large numbers in church monuments (a few are noted on the City Churches pages), as a weeping woman clutching at a funereal urn, head bowed over a bier, a soldier mourning his dying commander. The two John Bacons, Senior and Junior, give us many examples of such works. We also have a small number of allegorical representations of Grief personified, not linked to one mourned individual, but more generally emblematic of the emotion. Such a figure is almost always female. She is likely to have her head bowed, may even be bent double or curled up hugging herself in her misery, as in the figure above, of great pathos, by Bertram Mackennal. Below is one similar in conception, this time with the figure collapsed on a step, again with face hidden, her arms holding herself together. This one is late, from 1916, by C. Web-Gilbert.

Web-Gilbert's figure of Grief.

An alternative version harks back to Greek Amazons or maenads in a frenzy of grief, or Lapiths bewailing their lost families. Such a one is the weird figure of Grief on the Leicester Boer War Memorial, by Crosland McClure. Such straining figures are characteristic of this artist.

Leicester War memorial figure of Grief, by Crosland McClure, and Albert Toft's figure on the Welsh National Memorial.

I wanted to include an example which is at the opposite end of the spectrum a calm Grief, which on first sight I presumed represented rather Peace. It is the work of Albert Toft, and is the female figure on the base of the National Welsh War Memorial in Cardiff. A very similarly posed figure by Toft is on the exterior of the Birmingham Hall of Memory. How is she emblematic of Grief? The only indications are that the wreath of Victory is held loosely and hanging downwards hardly unusual in other figures though and that while she has a harp, her hand has fallen from the strings. Is her face grieving? We can conceive so, but scarcely are compelled to do so. Hmmm. Finally, then, to bring us back to a properly sorrowing female, in the church monument vein grieving for a specific individual, we have this charming figure by Goscombe John, which is the Sullivan Memorial in Victoria Embankment Gardens - the girl is actually a figure of Music grieving, thus two allegories in one.

Goscombe John's figure for the Sullivan Memorial.

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