(b Hadleigh, Suffolk, 17
Dec 1825; d London, 7 Oct 1892).
English sculptor and poet.
He ranks with John Henry Foley as the leading sculptor of
mid-Victorian England. He trained with William Behnes and in
1842 enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy, London. In
1844 he exhibited at Westminster Hall, London, a life-size
plaster group, the Death of Boadicea (destr.), in an
unsuccessful attempt to obtain sculptural commissions for
the Houses of Parliament. His earliest important surviving
work is the statuette of Puck (plaster, 1845–7; C. G.
Woolner priv. col.), which was admired by William Holman
Hunt and helped to secure Woolner’s admission in 1848 to the
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The work’s Shakespearean theme
and lifelike execution, stressing Puck’s humorous malice
rather than traditional ideal beauty, made it highly
appealing. Although eclipsed by Hunt, John Everett Millais
and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Woolner was an important figure
in the Brotherhood. He contributed poetry to its journal,
The Germ (1850), and his work was committed to truthfulness
to nature more consistently than that of any other
Pre-Raphaelite, except for Hunt. This is evident in
Woolner’s monument to William Wordsworth (marble, 1851; St
Oswald, Grasmere, Cumbria). This relief portrait, which
conveys both the poet’s physiognomy and his intellect, is
flanked by botanically faithful renditions of flowers,
emphasizing Wordsworth’s doctrine that in Woolner’s words,
‘common things can be made equally suggestive and
instructive with the most exalted subjects’.