Sir Charles Lawes-Wittewronge

Sportsman, Sculptor, Edwardian Lord of Rothamsted Manor

By Rosemary Ross

Information drawn from the internet including wikipedia and from Rothamsted Research

Photo:Charles Bennet Lawes as depicted by "VER" (François Verheyden) in Vanity Fair, 12 May 1883

Charles Bennet Lawes as depicted by "VER" (François Verheyden) in Vanity Fair, 12 May 1883

Wikipedia

Sir Charles Bennet Lawes-Wittewronge, 2nd Baronet (3 October 1843 – 6 October 1911) was born at Teignmouth, Devon, the only son of Sir John Bennet Lawes of Rothamsted Manor, Hertfordshire and his wife Caroline Fountaine. His sister Caroline was born a year later.

Photo:Charles as a boy - he laid the foundation stone for the Testimonial Laboratory, opened in 1855

Charles as a boy - he laid the foundation stone for the Testimonial Laboratory, opened in 1855

Rothamsted Research

Charles was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. At Cambridge he won the Colquhoun Sculls in 1862 and the Diamond Challenge Sculls at Henley Royal Regatta in 1863. He excelled in the university distance running events and received an athletics Blue in 1864 for the mile at the Inter University sports, which he won again in 1865. He was a rowing Blue in 1865 when he stroked the losing Cambridge crew in the Boat Race but was in the winning crew of the Ladies' Challenge Plate at Henley. He was beaten by Edward Michell in the Diamond Challenge Sculls in 1865, but won the Wingfield Sculls beating Walter Bradford Woodgate. In 1865 he was the Amateur Athletics Club champion for the mile.

Having studied natural sciences he graduated with a BA in 1866. He decided to become a sculptor, and began his training in London under John Henry Foley RA, Queen Victoria's favourite sculptor (who made the model for the statue of Albert for the Albert Memorial). In 1869 he studied under Hugo Hagen in Berlin.

 

 

 

Marriage to his cousin Amy and his career as a sculptor

Photo:Stained glass plaque celebrating the marriage of Charles and Amy (Marie Fountaine) in 1869

Stained glass plaque celebrating the marriage of Charles and Amy (Marie Fountaine) in 1869

Rothamsted Research, Roger Plumb

In April 1869 he married his first cousin Marie Amelie Rose Fountaine. Their son John, who inherited the baronetcy, was born in 1872, the year that Charles rented (with his father's financial support) a studio in Chelsea, and exhibited his first work at the Royal Academy, 'Girl at the Stream'.

Photo:Charles Lawes, in artistic pose, by Frank O Salisbury, 1905 - resembling Frank Salisbury's self-protrait - see http://www.harpenden-history.org.uk/page_id__487.aspx?path=0p3p88p86p

Charles Lawes, in artistic pose, by Frank O Salisbury, 1905 - resembling Frank Salisbury's self-protrait - see http://www.harpenden-history.org.uk/page_id__487.aspx?path=0p3p88p86p

LHS archives, B 3.80 digitised

Between 1872 and 1908 Charles exhibited twelve works at the Royal Academy. In 1878 he won an honourable mention at the Paris Universal Exhibition. He also exhibited his Daphne at the Royal Academy in 1880 and The Panther in 1881.

In 1882 Charles Lawes was involved in a libel case after he had imputed in the magazine Vanity Fair and elsewhere that another sculptor, Richard Claude Belt, was dishonest for taking credit for work done by someone else. Richard Belt had in fact also trained with Foley and then worked as an assistant in Charles Lawes's studio before setting up his own studio in 1875.

The long trial, the last to be heard by the High Court of Justice in Westminster Hall, occupied the court for 43 sittings and excited much public interest at the time. The question at issue was how much a sculptor may be aided by others in work to which he attaches his name: this was inconclusively debated. Eventually the case was decided against Lawes, and Belt was awarded £5,000 damages. Unable to pay the fine, Charles declared himself bankrupt.

Scientific interests

However, he also carried out scientific work for the Lawes Agricultural Trust, founded by his father. He became chairman of the Trust on the death of Sir John Bennet Lawes in 1900 and took a more active interest in the experimental work, as well as in community affairs in Harpenden. At this time he took an interest in the early career of Frank O Salisbury, who had painted a portrait of Sir Henry Gilbert, which hangs in the Lawes Open Innovation Hub at Rothamsted Research. Sir Charles cycled down to Frank Salisbury's studio at Red Gables every Saturday morning to discuss and criticise Frank's work.

In 1898, at the age of fifty-five, Charles took up cycle racing and held the National Cycling Union amateur record for twenty-five miles, with a speed of 51 minutes 15.8 seconds.

Refurbishment of Rothamsted Manor

When he succeeded his father as Baronet on 31 August 1900, he embarked on an extensive transformation of Rothamsted Manor, at considerable expense - for which receipts survive in the Rothamsted archives. He replaced Victorian grates and wall-paper with seventeenth century fireplaces and panelling from other properties, and installed armorial stained glass panels in many of the ground-floor windows. These recorded generations of the Wittewronge family. He bought Tudor and Stuart period furniture and hangings, so that the interior came to match the exterior. In 1906 Country Life magazine published a number of photographs of the interior decor.

In 1902 he assumed for himself and his heirs by Royal Licence the additional surname (and arms) of Wittewronge. In that same year Charles Lawes helped judge the world's first major bodybuilding competition. Organized by famed strongman Eugen Sandow, the event was held in London's Royal Albert Hall, and was judged by Lawes, Sandow and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Meanwhile he resumed his artistic career in the last decade of his life. He was one of the founders of the Incorporated Society of British Sculptors in 1904 and became its Honorary Treasurer. Since 2003 the Society has been renamed the Royal British Society of Sculptors.(https://rbs.org.uk/about-us/history)

Photo:The Death of Dirce - bronze cast outside the Tate Britain Gallery

The Death of Dirce - bronze cast outside the Tate Britain Gallery

R Ross, February 2017

In 1906 he executed The Death of Dirce, a bronze sculptural group based on the Farnese Bull, a classical work depicting the same subject. William Murray (who was the winner of the first bodybuilding competition in 1902) was his model for the twins Amphion and Zethus. The huge bronze was cast by A B Burton at his foundry in Thames Ditton. This was followed by a colossal marble version, exhibited at the Franco-British Exhibition in 1908, at the same time as the bronze was being exhibited at the Royal Academy.

The marble sculpture is now in the grounds at Rothamsted, as is a version of the nude lady (see below). In 1911, after the sculptor's death, a plaster version of The Death of Dirce was exhibited at the International Fine Arts Exhibition in Rome. That same year his widow offered the bronze to the National Gallery of British Art (later the Tate Gallery). Too large to be satisfactorily displayed indoors, it was installed on the terrace to the left of the building's entrance, where it still stands. 

Charles had died at Rothamsted on 6 October at the age of 68, after an operation for appendicitis. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on 11 October 1911, where there is a memorial.

Postscript

Charles was the last of the Lawes-Wittewronge family to live at Rothamsted Manor. Amy moved out of the Manor some 18 months after her husband's death and lived in London for a while before joining their son John who had moved to Australia. Amy died in 1928 and is included on the memorial at Golders Green Crematorium. Sir John Bennet Lawes-Wittewronge, the 3rd baronet, was succeeded by his son, Sir John Claud Lawes in 1931. The baronetcy passed to Sir (John) Michael Bennet Lawes in 1979 and on his death in 2009 the baronetcy, granted to Sir John Bennet Lawes in 1882, became extinct.

Notes

A summary of Charles Lawes-Wittewronge's artistic career can be seen at: http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=msib2_1219748255&search=Charles%20Lawes-Wittewronge - this link can be activated by pasting it into your browser.

Photo:Dedication plaque on Tate Gallery bronze

Dedication plaque on Tate Gallery bronze

R Ross, February 2017

Photo:Dirce, cast by A B Burton, Thames Ditton

Dirce, cast by A B Burton, Thames Ditton

R Ross, February 2017

Photo:The marble statue of The Death of Dirce, in the gardens of Rothamsted Manor

The marble statue of The Death of Dirce, in the gardens of Rothamsted Manor

Rothamsted Research, Roger Plumb

Photo:Charles Lawes - Marble statue of a naked woman, c.1900

Charles Lawes - Marble statue of a naked woman, c.1900

Internet image from invaluable.co.uk auctioneers, when this version of 'a garden ornament' was last sold.

This page was added by Rosemary Ross on 04/04/2017.

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