Son of William and Jane Gibson of the parish of Gyffin, Caernarfonshire, he was christened at Conway 19 June 1790. His parents moved to Liverpool when he was nine years old. He showed an aptitude for drawing as a child but as his parents were too poor to pay the premium necessary to secure his apprenticeship to a portrait or miniature painter he was apprenticed at fourteen to a firm of cabinet-makers and wood-carvers. On seeing the models and other work carried out at Messrs. Francis' marble works he became keenly interested in that work and eventually succeeded in cancelling his first indentures and becoming apprenticed to Messrs. Francis as a worker in marble. Here he attracted the attention of William Roscoe, the historian, who was his first patron. Gibson's association with the Roscoe family continued for many years and Roscoe's grand-daughter, Mrs. Henry Sandbach of Hafodunos, near Abergele, remained his close friend and what was probably his only link with Wales in his later years.
Gibson moved in 1817 to London where he obtained commissions from Watson Taylor and where he met some of the leading sculptors of the day. In October 1817 he arrived at Rome, where he studied the art of sculpture under Canova and Thorwaldsen, and carried out commissions for the duke of Devonshire, Sir George Beaumont, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, and other leading art patrons of the period. Most of the remainder of his life was spent at Rome, although he visited England in 1844 in connection with the erection of his statue of Huskisson at Liverpool, and again in 1850 and 1851 to model the statue of the queen, and subsequently in 1855.
His work was strongly influenced by classical tradition and by the Greeks, even to colouring his sculpture, and his most famous work, 'The Tinted Venus,' and two other tinted statues occasioned considerable discussion when they were shown at the Great Exhibition of 1862. Gibson was elected A.R.A. in 1833 and R.A. in 1835; he exhibited thirty-three works at the Royal Academy between 1816 and 1864. After several years of ill health he died at Rome 27 January 1866 and was buried in the English cemetery there.
He executed a large number of busts and figures, but most of his work was based on classical themes. He bequeathed the contents of his studio to the Royal Academy; examples of his work are also to be found in private collections and many are in public ownership. The N.L.W. has three manuscript volumes containing a large number of his autograph letters and about a hundred original sketches by him.
Editorial note 2021: John Gibson's partner in Rome was the artist Penry Williams.
John Gibson's younger brother, was born at Liverpool. He lived with John Gibson at Rome and Lucca for fourteen years and a close bond existed between the brothers. Benjamin was a classical scholar of some repute and contributed several monographs to English antiquarian publications. He died at Lucca 13 August 1851.
Another brother was the sculptor Solomon Gibson (1796/7-1866).
Published date: 1959
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