A Daughter of Eve
John Bell (Hopton, Suffolk 1811 – Kensington 1895)
Art / Sculpture
1853 (plaster model, exh. RA) - c. 1866
Bronze or bronze-patinated electrotype, silver and gold plate
1525 x 400 x 360 mm (60 1/16 x 15 3/4 x 14 3/16 in)
Place of origin
EnglandOrder this image
Bronze or bronze patinated electrotype sculpture; A Daughter of Eve - A Scene on the Shore of the Atlantic; John Bell (Hopton, Suffolk 1811 – Kensington 1895), c. 1853-66. Figure of an enslaved African woman, partly nude and manacled at her wrists, standing on the shoreline of a West African country, probably on the Guinea Coast, about to be trafficked by ship across the Atlantic to North America. The sculpture was first exhibited by Bell at the Royal Academy in 1853 and was widely recognised as a powerful statement against the continuing practice of slavery in the Americas.
A full-size standing figure of an enslaved African woman, depicted with her hands manacled, looking to her right in sad contemplation, her eyes cast downwards, her mouth down-turned. The figure stands on an integral circular base with a lightly textured surface and, at the front, a single shell and a length of seaweed, indicating that the woman is standing at the seashore. A striped and fringed cloth is around her waist. She wears gold-plated earrings of circular form, on each of which is threaded a separately made sphere. The silver-plated manacles are also separately made and attached to the woman’s wrists. Signed on base ‘JOHN. BELL Sc.’ The surface of the sculpture is heavily worked with extensive cross-hatching of the flesh areas, possibly executed in the wax model. John Bell was a successful British sculptor whose lifetime spanned the nineteenth century, and who was involved in several of the most important sculptural projects of the period, including the Houses of Parliament and the Albert Memorial, to which he contributed the group representing America. His most famous sculpture was the 'Eagle Slayer', first exhibited in 1837, versions of which were made in marble, bronze and iron. Many of Bell’s compositions, including the 'Daughter of Eve', were widely disseminated in the form of reductions made in iron, electrotyped copper and Parianware, a form of ceramic. The Daughter of Eve is a sculpture of some beauty and is of great significance for its strong anti-slavery message. It was the most politically charged work that Bell would make in the course of his career. In the first instance, the sculpture was a direct response to the American sculptor Hiram Powers’ statue The Greek Slave, first exhibited to acclaim in London in 1845 and then in 1851 at the Great Exhibition (Martina Droth, Jason Edwards and Michael Hatt, Sculpture Victorious. Art in an Age of Invention, exh. cat., Yale Center for British Art and Tate Britain, New Haven/London 2014, no. 80; reductions at Arlington Court (NT 985340) and Ham House (NT 1139597)). Whilst the ostensible subject of Powers’ sculpture was a Christian girl captured during the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman empire, it came increasingly to be seen, especially in the United States, as a commentary on the continuing practice of slavery in the Southern States. In contrast, John Bell’s sculpture was from the time of its first exhibition, in 1853, seen as an explicit comment on slavery. Although A Daughter of Eve has been described as ‘a sentimental work, designed to elicit an emotional response from the viewer’ (Michael Hatt in Sculpture Victorious, p. 253), it is not in fact a sentimental or voyeuristic image; the woman is depicted naturalistically and with dignity, the use of the bronzed material providing a representation of her natural skin colour. Bell began working on the sculpture in 1852, in close collaboration with George Richards Elkington (1801-65), who would cast the bronze versions. He may in part have been moved to make his sculpture after reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852. Bell stated in correspondence with Elkington that he wished his figure to be seen as a response to the Greek Slave, writing that it should be ‘on the same scale and in the same style as the Greek Slave.’ (Beach, ‘John Bell’s American Slave’, p. 1). His sculpture also shows awareness of the celebrated cartoon entitled ‘The Virginian Slave, Intended as a Companion to Power’s ‘Greek Slave’,’ published in Punch on 7 June 1851, which implicitly criticised the American sculptor's timidity in not making a more explicit political statement with his work. John Bell's figure was shown at the Royal Academy in 1853, in the form of a plaster model, described in the catalogue as ‘A daughter of Eve – a scene on the shore of the Atlantic, to be executed in bronze.’ Thus the sculptor made it categorically clear that the subject was an enslaved woman somewhere on the western coast of Africa, awaiting transportation across the Atlantic to America. As the reviewer of the exhibition in the Art Journal wrote, ‘the allusion is at once intelligible.’ (Art Journal, 1853, p. 152). The expression ‘daughter of Eve’ reflects the Bible’s message that all people were descended from Adam and Eve, so that all people, whatever their race or skin colour, were part of the same creation. The term, which also reflects John Bell’s deep Christian faith, was frequently used by abolitionists to counter arguments advanced by defenders of the practice that enslaved people were of a different and lesser order of humanity. Bell was known for his strong abolitionist views. In 1848 he made a portrait bust of the abolitionist Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton (1786-1845) for the Anglican Cathedral in Freetown, Sierra Leone. A bronze cast of A Daughter of Eve was exhibited in Manchester at the Grundy Gallery in August 1853 and was the subject of a lengthy piece in The Manchester Guardian for 27 August 1853, in which it was described as ‘the product of genius, expressing its sympathies for the negro race, in slavery – sympathies which Mr. Bell has felt for years’ ((p. 6; see also Hatt, ‘Sculpture, Chains, and the Armstrong Gun’, pp. 222-23). The article included a direct statement from John Bell: ‘The poor slave girl, represented on the bronze, does not struggle with her fate; but that very resignation should plead the more against the injustice and degradation of that position to which the colour of her skin condemns her. She is on the shore of the Atlantic, torn from her own land and kin to labour among strangers, by the fear of the lash. The voice, the pen and the brush have been energetic in advocating the rights of the oppressed race. A sculptor hopes that his art may also aid in directing a sustained attention to the greatest injustice in the world – John Bell.’ The Manchester Guardian article also noted that A Daughter of Eve had been seen and much admired by Harriet Beecher Stowe, as well as by another noted abolitionist, Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland. A version described in the catalogue as in bronze, perhaps the same cast, had already been exhibited a few months earlier by Elkington, Mason & Co. at the Dublin International Exhibition. Its public exhibition may in fact have preceded the Royal Academy showing of the plaster, hitherto believed to have been the sculpture's inaugural exhibition, since the bronze is discussed at some length, described as recently arrived in the city, in the Dublin paper The Freeman’s Journal for 25 May 1853. The writer of this article likewise made clear that the anti-slavery message was well understood by visitors: ‘Two exquisite works of art, bronze castings by Elkington and Mason, have recently been placed in the great hall […] The most remarkable of these, styled “A Daughter of Eve”, is the figure of a young negro slave girl in chains, standing, as it were, in the hideous slave mart, exposed to the brutal gaze of the heartless trafficers in human flesh. The whole attitude of the figure, and the expression of the features in which shame, grief, resignation and proud despair are finely marked, convey most forcibly the idea of hopeless, helpless servitude. It reminds one, to some extent, of Powers’s “Greek Slave”; but this does not, in the least degree, detract from its merit, the subject being treated in an original and independent style, whilst the modelling of the limbs almost approaches perfection. This work is certainly one of the gems of the Exhibition…’ On its return from Dublin and Manchester, the Daughter of Eve was exhibited at the Crystal Palace as part of a display of works made by Elkingtons. An article in the Morning Chronicle for 25 May 1855 singled it out for attention: ‘Among the figures thus arranged are “A Daughter of Eve”, by Bell. The figure is that of a negress, scantily attired, bearing the symbol of slavery, and her features marked by that expression of silent and resigned sorrow, and that hopeless despair, which characterises the victim of modern slavery. The work is far more true to its subject than the much-vaunted “Greek Slave” of Hiram Powers. No one can look upon this “Daughter of Eve” without recognising in her a slave, and feeling their sympathies aroused, and their better feelings awakened, on the subject of that great social blot which still mars the brightness of the “star-spangled banner” of the West.’ Many of the sculptures at the Crystal Palace were shortly afterwards sent to Paris for the Exposition Universelle at the Palais de l’Industrie, the Daughter of Eve being noted as ‘the highly expressive and beautiful statue.’ (Morning Chronicle, 9 July 1855). Bell’s statue was again exhibited in 1862 at the International Exhibition in London, in full-size and at half-size and in electrotype, as part of a display of electrotypes by Elkington. One of the commissioners of the exhibition, the South Kensington Museum curator George Wallis, wrote on this occasion that the Daughter of Eve may be seen ‘touching an appeal against the blasphemous hypocrisy which attempts to justify human bondage on the ground of external physical differences’ (cited in Sculpture Victorious, p. 253). At the 1862 exhibition, a Parian-ware reduction of the sculpture was also exhibited with the less subtle title The American Slave, alluding to the American Civil War then underway (Atterbury, The Parian Phenomenon, fig. 375). So far as is known, John Bell was not responsible for this title and, indeed, he seems throughout his life to have used his original title for the sculpture. A Daughter of Eve is one of a series of semi-nude captive female figures made by Bell in the course of his career. Whilst this was not the case for the Daughter of Eve, most of these sculptures were made with an eye to the market, reflecting the tastes of the sculptor’s largely male clients. They included a nude figure of Andromeda, from 1850, casts of which are at Ironbridge Gorge Museum and at Osborne House. In 1854 John Bell made two more figures, the titles of which explicitly refer to slavery, the Octoroon (marble version in Blackburn Town Hall) and The Abyssinian Slave, the latter clearly derived from A Daughter of Eve. Both were widely reproduced as reductions in Parian-ware (Barnes, John Bell, Pls. 52-53). In place of the realism of A Daughter of Eve, both figures are essentially European, and they have strong erotic subtexts, especially the Octoroon. Neither can be said to bear the fierce political subtext of A Daughter of Eve. Towards the end of his life, John Bell presented the plaster models for some of his best-known works to Kensington Town Hall, where they were placed on exhibition. The Daughter of Eve, described by Bell in the catalogue as ‘a negress, and yet a sister’, was the first work to be seen on entering the town hall’s vestibule (St Mary Abbotts, Kensington. Catalogue of Statuary by J. Bell, London 1890). The plaster model, which survived at Kensington Town Hall until the 1970s but may have been destroyed when the old town hall was demolished in the early 1980s, was painted black. Other plasters by Bell were lost in the fire that destroyed Crystal Palace in November 1936. Bell stated in the 1890 catalogue that the bronze statue ‘was purchased by the late Lord Hertford’, which has generally been taken to mean Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford (1800-70), whose collections form the core of the Wallace Collection in London. Lord Hertford is supposed to have bought the example of the sculpture that was exhibited at the 1862 exhibition in London, which was however a half-size version. There is no evidence in surviving inventories of Hertford House (today’s Wallace Collection), or of Lord Hertford’s properties in Paris that he owned an example of the sculpture, but he is very likely to have done so, given the statement by its maker in 1890. The sculpture in many respects corresponds to Lord Hertford’s taste for scantily clad figures of females. It is not known whether Hertford had abolitionist beliefs but, although he was a notoriously difficult and even misanthropic man, it is by no means impossible that he was opposed to slavery. Hertford also owned a small version of Raffaelle Monti’s contemporary marble sculpture of the Circassian Slave, which remains in the Wallace Collection (Jeremy Warren, The Wallace Collection. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture, 2 vols., London 2016, no. 153). It has often been stated that the version of A Daughter of Eve now at Cragside is the example acquired by the Marquess of Hertford. This is possible, but no evidence has yet come to light to support this assertion. It is also possible that Sir William Armstrong acquired his cast directly from Elkington's. He visited the company’s showrooms in Birmingham on 7 September 1865 (Beach, ‘John Bell’s American Slave’, p. 9; Alistair Grant, personal communication), so could well have ordered a cast then. The Daughter of Eve continued to be marketed by Elkingtons throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, a half-size version being exhibited on the company’s stand at the Birmingham Industrial Exhibition of 1886 (Beach, ‘John Bell’s American Slave’, p. 7, fig. 6). The Cragside version is generally considered the prime surviving cast. Two other full-size bronze versions of A Daughter of Eve are known, sold at auction in 2000 (Sotheby’s London, 5 October 2000, lot 197) and in 2012 (Christie's London, 20 September 2012, lot 193). The version sold in 2000 lacked the manacles and the earrings were not gold-plated, but the 2012 version had silvered manacles amd the gold-plated earrings. One other version is currently known, in this case half-size, thus corresponding to the model exhibited by Elkington at the 1862 exhibition, in the Aberystwyth University School of Art Museum and Galleries (inv. Be39). Also made by Elkington, it is dated 1877. The figure at Cragside has usually been described as an electrotype. It is certainly not a conventional electrotype and does not bear an Elkington stamp of the sort routinely applied by the company to its electrotype copies. The sculpture has not as yet undergone technical study to determine if it is in fact a conventional bronze casting or, instead, was cast in copper or zinc and then bronzed, using an electrotyping process. This was a technique used for a number of large sculptures at this time for example the eighteen statues made for the new House of Lords between 1852-58. The term 'bronze' was used indiscriminately at this period, not least by Elkington, for sculptures made using various forms of casting and electrotyping, so John Bell's own statement that at least one version was cast in bronze may or may not be accurate. It is certainly though unlikely that Lord Hertford would not have wanted his cast made in true bronze. A Daughter of Eve is the most significant of three works of art at Cragside owned by Sir William Armstrong (1810–1900) that explicitly refer to the practice of slavery. The others are a column inlaid with a Wedgwood 'Slave Medallion' (NT 1230999) and a large casket supported by four enslaved men (NT 1228296), the origins and purpose of which are unclear. A Newcastle upon Tyne-born industrialist, designer and manufacturer of arms, Armstrong’s company supplied large quantities of Armstrong breech-loading guns to the British military forces, which were used in conflicts across the globe. It has been asserted that Sir William Armstrong turned a blind eye to a subterfuge permitting his company’s products to be sold to both sides in the American Civil War (Hatt, Sculpture, Chains, and the Armstrong Gun’, p. 234). In 1864, an Armstrong gun was captured in the Confederate Fort Fisher, although it is not clear how it arrived there. A letter of 21 January 1864 to The Times from the Elswick Ordnance Company, in response to allegations that a cargo destined for the Confederate government included Armstrong guns, stated that ‘no Armstrong guns made by us, or under our authority, have yet been shipped to any foreign Government whatever.’ The Union side certainly seems to have sought to acquire guns through a complex scheme involving subterfuge, but these were never delivered (Marshall J. Bastable, Arms and the State. Sir William Armstrong and the remaking of British Naval Power, 1854-1914, Aldershot 2004, pp. 126-28; Henrietta Heald, William Armstrong. Magician of the North, Newcastle upon Tyne 2010, pp. 109-10). More recent research has demonstrated conclusively that Armstrong did not supply either side (Henrietta Heald, personal communication). Little evidence to date has been found in Armstrong’s own writings concerning his personal views on slavery, but a long passage in his book A Visit to Egypt in 1872, written after he had travelled to Egypt to advise the Khedive on bridging the cataracts of the Nile, and published in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1874, suggests he was strongly opposed to the practice. Armstrong wrote that domestic slavery was technically illegal in Egypt but was widely practised, commenting that these domestic slaves were in practice often well-treated in the households in which they worked, but that “The manner in which the poor creatures are kidnapped is atrocious, and is by far the worst part of the business. There are gangs of ruffians on the White Nile who do this horrible work, and their mode of proceeding is to make incursions into adjacent lands, and there, surrounding the villages, they set fire to everything that will burn. When the people rush out of their houses, the men are shot down, the children captured, and the women left to starve or provide for themselves.” He went on to criticise the system of forced common labour in Egypt, suggesting that “The evils and injustices of this system are fully recognised by the Khedive and his government. I heard one of his most able and enlightened ministers denounce it as horrible, but then, he added, it is at present a necessity; without it, labour could not be procured for the maintenance of the canals and the great irrigation works upon which the very existence of Egypt depends” (A Visit to Egypt in 1872, pp. 30-33; Heald, William Armstrong, pp. 176-77). Armstrong chose to place John Bell’s Daughter of Eve with its powerful political message in one of the most prominent positions in his new house at Cragside, where it could not fail to be seen by every visitor to the house. It is not unreasonable to see his acquisition of A Daughter of Eve and its display at Cragside as another reflection of his true views on the practice of slavery. Jeremy Warren March 2022
Possibly the cast commissioned by Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford (1800-1870) whose collection forms the core of the Wallace Collection, London; probably bought by Lord Armstrong (1810 - 1900) after 1870; alternatively, possibly acquired by Sir William Armstrong from Elkington, c. 1865-66. Armstrong Collection; transferred by the Treasury to The National Trust in 1977 via the National Land Fund, aided by 3rd Baron Armstrong of Bamburgh and Cragside (1919 - 1987).
Cragside, The Armstrong Collection (acquired through the National Land Fund and transferred to the National Trust in 1977)
Makers and roles
John Bell (Hopton, Suffolk 1811 – Kensington 1895), sculptor
Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention, 1837–1901, Yale Center for British Art, Connecticut, 2014 - 2015, no.84 Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention, 1837–1901, Tate Britain, London, 2014 - 2015, no.84
Royal Academy, 1853, p. 54, no. 1348. Dublin 1853: Official Catalogue of the Great Industrial Exhibition, Dublin 1853, p. 203. Bell 1876 Doyne Bell, Catalogue of the Paintings, Sculpture and other Works of Art at Osborne, 1876 Barnes 1999: Richard Barnes, John Bell. The Sculptor's Life and Works, Kirstead, 1999, no. 53 and p. 49. Atterbury, 1989: Paul Atterbury &c, The Parian Phenomenon. A Survey of Victorian Parian Porcelain statuary and busts, Somerset, 1989, p. 112, fig. 375. Wenley 2004: Robert Wenley, ‘“The Fourth Marquess of Hertford’s ‘Lost’ Collection of Sculpture,” Sculpture Journal 12 (2004), pp. 71-85, pp. 81-82, fig. 12. Roscoe 2009: I. Roscoe, E. Hardy and M. G. Sullivan, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660-1851, New Haven and Yale 2009, p. 101, no. 55. Sculpture Victorious Art in an Age of Invention, 1837 – 1901, exh. cat., Yale Center for British Art, September 11, 2014 – November 30, 2014 and Tate Britain, 25 February – 25 May 2015, fig. 3, p. 17 , cat. no. 84 Beach 2016: Caitlin Beach, 'John Bell’s American Slave in the Context of Production and Patronage', Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Summer 2016) Stable Hatt 2016: Michael Hatt, ‘Sculpture, Chains, and the Armstrong Gun: John Bell’s American Slave’, Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Summer 2016), pp. 220-38 Warren 2016: Jeremy Warren, The Wallace Collection. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture, 2 vols., London 2016, I, p. 6, fig. 4. Grant and Patterson 2018: Alistair Grant and Angus Patterson, The Museum and the Factory. The V&A, Elkington and the Electrical Revolution, London 2018, pp. 74-75, fig. 49.