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Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist
B. Hughes of Boston
Lithograph from an 1851 engraving of the statue of Oliver Twist (1842) by Ball Hughes
Owned by David E. Brown

Description: Tinted lithograph from an engraving in The Art journal illustrated catalogue: the industry of all nations, 1851, London: George Virtue, 1851. Approx. 7.5 inches X 9 inches.

    This full page lithograph from an engraving made at the American Exhibit at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the Crystal Palace in London's Hyde Park is apparently from a special “salesman's dummy” edition of the book and is very rare. The book is available on several websites but this image is not included.

From the Wikipedia entry for Oliver Twist: “Oliver Twist, also known as The Parish Boy's Progress is the second novel by English author Charles Dickens, published by Richard Bentley in 1838. The story is about an orphan Oliver Twist, who endures a miserable existence in a workhouse and then is placed with an undertaker. He escapes and travels to London where he meets the Artful Dodger, leader of a gang of juvenile pickpockets. Oliver is led to the lair of their elderly criminal trainer Fagin, naively unaware of their unlawful activities.

    The sculpture represents the scene after Oliver Twist is shot during a bungled burglary attempt at Mrs. Maylie’s home and has a broken arm. Fagin forced him into participating in the burglary where he was abandoned by Sikes after being shot. The wounded Oliver ends up under the care of the people he was supposed to rob.

Oliver Twist at Mrs. Maylie's door.
by George Cruikshank 
From Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, 1838
Available at Dickens & Visual Culture, University of Missouri 

    Ball Hughes appears to have based his design on the illustration by George Cruikshank, as shown above in Chapter 28 of Oliver Twist, Vol. II, 1846 edition.

    Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was described as “an old acquaintance of Ball Hughes who visited the family home Sunnyside, according to his older daughter, Georgina Ball Hughes (1829-1911). 

    The plaster model of Oliver Twist was exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum from 1842 to 1847 (see below). David Paroissien in Oliver Twist: An Annotated Bibliography, New York: Garland Publishing, 1986, p. 94, gives a summary of the Mabel Munson Swan’s coverage of the statue of Oliver Twist in The Athenaeum Gallery 1827-1873: The Boston Athenaeum as an Early patron of Art, Boston: The Boston Athenaeum, 1940, pp. 151-52:

Provides a brief history of Robert Ball Hughes’s statue of Oliver Twist (VIII. 51) prior to its apparent disappearance. Hughes’s model was exhibited at the athenaeum from 1842 to 1847, in return for a loan of $120 advanced to Hughes by the institution. Subsequently, One Edward Brinley bought the statue and by wish of the artist withdrew the figure from public exhibition until second thought prompted Brinley to try and sell it back to the Athenaeum “at a moderate price.” The correspondence between Brinley and the Athenaeum cited by Swan reveals his wish to see the figure publically displayed in Boston, but despite Brinley’s co-opertiveness the statue was not disposed of to the Athenaeum and never appeared there. Swan comments that it was probably placed in Brinley’s loft and may have been destroyed. “[N]or has there been any other mention of it in connection with the work of Ball Hughes,” she adds. Cf.VII. 51.

    According to Swan, Brinley’s offer to sell the statue to the Athenaeum was in 1848. Swan apparently was not aware that the statue was exhibited by Ball Hughes in Boston in 1850 and at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, before being purchased by the 6th Duke of Devonshire in October 1851. 

    Edward Brinley was a friend of Ball Hughes according to David Dearinger in his lecture:  The Curious History of Robert Ball Hughes’s Monument to Nathaniel Bowditch, given at at the Boston Athenaeum on November 15, 2011:

“Hughes gave the plaster model [of Nathaneil Bowditch] to his friend Edward Brinley, who had made substantial contributions to the commission, so substantial, in fact, that Brinley was forced to give the plaster to William Thaddeus Harris in payment for debts. In 1851, Dr. Harris deposited the plaster at the Athenæum where, it has remained on view since.”
“1214. (Robert) Ball Hughes, Dorchester, Mass. Specimens of Statuary—Fisher Boy, and Oliver Twist. Excellent, both. The Committee consider the last named to be, in conception and feeling, one of the best specimens of modern statuary which they have ever seen. Gold Medal.”
    In 1851, the statue was shipped to the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in London's Hyde Park. It’s not clear who the owner was at the time. The exhibition ran from May 1 to October 15th, 1851.

    In a letter to an Unknown Correspondent from Charles Dickens, dated 15 October 1851, Dickens responds to an inquiry about the statue:

“Dear Madam,

I regret to say in reply to your letter that I have not seen the statue of Oliver Twist, and have not been to London to do so since the receipt of your favor, Nor do I know any one whom I could with any delicacy ask to give the Artist a Commission for such a work. As to possessing it myself, you may easily imagine that I have very frequent and urgent occasion to exercise my self-denial in similar instances.

Ever Madam | Faithfully Yours
Charles Dickens

According to the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes by Mrs. E. Ball Hughes, p. 16:

“Meanwhile Mr. Hughes found plenty to do . in Boston . he made some fine Medallions for the Rodman and Rotch families, and amused himself making a statue of Oliver Twist.  It was exhibited, and greatly admired and received a gold medal from the great fair held in Boston in 1850. It afterwards was sent to the World’s fair in England, and was immediately bought by the Duke of Devonshire for his gallery at Chatsworth.  The Duke had been a good friend to the young sculptor, before he came to America. Soon after this he produced a beautiful statue of “little Nell” . now in the Athenaeum.”

According to by William Dana Orcutt in Good Old Dorchester, Cambridge: John Wilson & Son, UP, 1893, p. 381:

Among a number of works which he has done among us may be mentioned his beautiful marble statue of General Alexander Hamilton, unfortunately destroyed with the Exchange at the great Are in New York ; a magnificent marble alto-relief to the memory of Bishop Hobart in Trinity Church ; a group of Uncle Toby and Widow Wadman, now in the Athenaeum ; the inimitable statue of little Oliver Twist, which makes us more than ever in love with sculpture ; an admirable equestrian statue of General Washington, originally intended for Philadelphia, but, owing to want of funds, never executed.”

    According to Ball Hughes's obituary in the Boston Daily Evening Transcript, Friday, March 6, 1868: 
The 6th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, showed his appreciation of his [Ball Hughes] talents by becoming the owner of his Oliver Twist. The Duke was an early patron of Ball Hughes and a friend of Dickens.   We will see later that the Duke of Devonshire did not know that he was purchasing a work by Ball Hughes at the time.

What happened to the statue?

    I came across the article: The Work of Ball Hughes in The Dickensian Vol. 29, 1933, pp. 229-230 that mentions the Authors' quest for information about the statue of Oliver Twist after a visit to the Boston Athenaeum. The following is an excerpt from p. 230 of the article:

“... Mrs. Otis Smith's further enquiries elicited from a grandson of Ball Hughes, that a statue of Oliver Twist in marb1e was made for the Duke of Devonshire and was in Chatsworth.

This statement has been submitted to Mr. Francis Thompson, Librarian at Chatsworth, who replied :

I am afraid I have never heard of Ball Hughes nor can I find any record of any statue by him having ever been at Chatsworth. His name is not mentioned in the special volume which the sixth Duke reserved for his purchases of contemporary sculpture ;  but this does not go beyond 1845, and it seems quite probable that if he began to be interested in Dickens after that date he may have commissioned Hughes to make such a statue and it may have been given away after the Duke's death. Quite a considerable part of the collection has been dissipated from time to time among the different member different members of the Duke's family.

Both the Little Nell and Oliver Twist statues were exhibited at The Great Exhibition of 1851, and in relation to “Oliver Twist the following magazine notice at the time has been supplied by Mr. W. Miller.

Mr. Hughes, of Boston, United States, is, we understand, the Sculptor from whose chisel has proceeded this happy delineation of what is considered by many of us as one of the novelist's finest creations. The moment chosen by the artist is that in which the poor orphan, having been dropped by the burglar Sikes in his hurried escape, has  made his way back again to Mrs. Maylies door.  Wounded, fatigued, and wretched, the miserable lad has set himself down, apparently uncaring whether he lives or dies.  Poverty, privation, and the dark scenes in which he has been made to take an unwilling part, have almost dried up the well-spring of Hope within his breast, and he sits, the picture of despair and hard reality.

We are pleased to be able to give pictures of these two statues and, knowing where Little Nell is, we shall not rest contented till we have traced the present whereabouts of “Oliver Twist.”

In a later communication Mr. Thompson writes that he has again searched his records, and can find no allusion whatever to a statue by Ball Hughes, and is confident that it is not now in the possession of the Duke of Devonshire.”

    The article above mentioned that a grandson of Ball Hughes stated that a statue of Oliver Twist in marble was made for the Duke of Devonshire and was at Chatsworth. We know that this is not entirely accurate since the statue was made in plaster. We also know that it was not made expressly for the Duke unless it was made into marble after the Duke purchased the plaster in 1851.

    The grandson of Ball Hughes was probably George Edward Brown (1857-1933), who lived in Boston and was a Proprietor (Shareholder/Member) of the Boston Athenaeum. The article also mentions a magazine (unknown) article about the statue from the time of the Great Exhibition and also states that there was a picture of the statue.

    The Duke of Devonshire’s ancestral home, Chatsworth, is still in the family. I contacted the curator, Mr. Charles Noble, and enquired about the statue. I was wondering if it was still in the collection at Chatsworth House. I received this reply:

Jan 25, 2010

Dear David Brown,  

Thank you for your email enquiry about a statue of Oliver Twist by your ancestor Robert Ball Hughes, which I was delighted to receive. This was because in the course of recent research into the 6th Duke of Devonshire’s (1790-1858) sculpture acquisitions for his Sculpture Gallery here I had come across a loose receipt from the American Commissioner at the Crystal Palace for “the statue of Oliver Twist” bought from him for £100 (the receipt is dated Oct 15 [18]51 and headed ‘ Crystal Palace ’), which is loosely inserted into that Duke’s manuscript bound sculpture accounts. The American commissioner’s surname was Riddle. There is no name of the artist so I am delighted to learn from you that it was Robert Ball Hughes. And thank you so much for the image of the statue: can you tell me what publication this was taken from for our records, please? Do you have further information about this work (is it in marble?) at the Great Exhibition of 1851, I wonder?

This sculpture does not appear to have survived at Chatsworth or any other of the Duke of Devonshire’s houses, unless it was small and has been stored with other household effects. Do you happen to know its size? It was not included in the 1905 inventory catalogue of the contents of Chatsworth in the sculpture section and it is likely, being so specifically Victorian, that it may have been given away or otherwise disposed of after the 6th Duke’s death in 1858. The 6th Duke met and became friends with the celebrated author Dickens and seems to have bought a few oil paintings of Dickensian subjects, still in the collection. There is an excellent book on the 6th Duke, a biography by James Lees-Milne, entitled ‘Bachelor Duke’ and which was published in hardback and in the 1990s in softback by John Murray in the UK , which will give you information on his friendship with Dickens.

If youre interested in the 6th Duke’s other sculpture acquisitions, may I suggest you look at the following page on our website and on the right hand side there is a link to a pdf article on this subject, entitled ‘Like a Poets Dreams….’.
www.chatsworth.org/learn/the-devonshire-collection [this link is no longer available but you can get to the document directly at http://www.chatsworth.org/files/apollo.pdf

I hope the above is of some assistance to you in the compilation of your website about your ancestor and let me know if I can help you further. I would interested to hear from you again in response to my questions.

With best wishes 

Charles Noble 

Charles Noble,
Curator (Fine Art & Loans)
The Devonshire Collection

Note: The Edward Riddle mentioned above was a Boston carriage maker and auctioneer of horses. He was appointed a US Commissioner to the Great Exhibition of 1851. The statue was purchased from the American section of the Great Exhibition on October 15th, 1851, the last day of the Exhibition. We now have confirmation and proof that the statue of Oliver Twist was indeed purchased by the Duke of Devonshire.

Jan 25, 2010

Dear Mr. Noble,

Thank you for the quick reply and the information. The statue was probably plaster which might explain why it has not survived. A similar statue of Dicken's Little Nell is in the Boston Athenaeum. I assume it's life-size or a little smaller.

I purchased the page with the engraving from a special "salesmans dummie" edition of a book about the Great Exhibition from a manuscript dealer on Ebay. The book is The Art journal illustrated catalogue: the industry of all nations, 1851 London : George Virtue, 1851. I have found the book at several sites online but this image is not included. …

... I am working on a webpage devoted to the Oliver Twist statue and will let you know when it's completed. It will have more details from the manuscript dealer about the book on the website.

Do you know if there are any other works by Robert Ball Hughes at Chatsworth? ...

Thank you.

David E. Brown

Feb 4, 2010

Dear Mr. Brown

Many thanks for your helpful reply. I had been thinking that the image looked as though it had come from the Art Journal (UK) so was glad to have that confirmed. It is of course possible that a plaster may not have survived well in this collection and could eventually have been disposed of if it had become badly damaged.

... I do not know of any other works by Robert Ball Hughes in this collection.

... Do please send me a brief email to let me know when you have completed your web page on Oliver Twist as I would be interested to see what it contains.

with best wishes

Charles Noble

Feb 5, 2010

Dear Mr. Brown, 

I hasten to write to you as my archivist colleague, Andrew Peppitt, has found a reference to Oliver Twist in the mss. of Sir Joseph Paxton here (Paxton was the 6th Duke of Devonshire’s Head gardener here, and later confidant, from 1826). The reference is as follows:

Devonshire Archives, Chatsworth, Paxton Mss., No. 668, 23 July 1851, 6th Duke of Devonshire to Paxton The 6th Duke writes to Paxton from his Brighton home on 23 July [1851] on a variety of matters.  The passage of relevance is as follows:  

“It is a little vexatious that Oliver Twist turns out not to have been the work of an American after all. // It dampens my wish of having it copied in marble”.  

He then moves on to his state of health! So, perhaps someone had informed the duke that Ball Hughes had been born in England , or was even English, in reply to his enquiry about the sculptor. It would seem that he had a positive intention of acquiring a work of American sculpture. I hope this may be of some additional assistance to you,

With best wishes 

Charles Noble

    Here we learn that the Duke of Devonshire was disappointed that the statue was not the work of an American. The Duke apparently was not aware that he was purchasing a statue by Robert Ball Hughes. He no doubt would have remembered Ball Hughes from over twenty years before and knew that he was English. He may not have had it copied in marble as there are no further references to what happened to the plaster.

The mystery continues …
Do you know more about the statue of Oliver Twist, its’ whereabouts, or have a picture of it?
last update 8/13/2012

For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2012