Thomas Woolner


Contributions to The Germ:

My Beautiful Lady
Of My Lady in Death

O When and Where


Woolner was born to Thomas and Rebecca (née Leeks) Woolner in Suffolk. He was educated at Ipswich, and at the age of twelve studied sculpture with William Behnes. In December 1842, at the age of seventeen, he exhibited a model of "Eleanor sucking the Poison from the arm of Prince Edward" at the Royal Academy. By the time he met Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1847, Woolner had won the 1845 Society of the Arts medal for "Affection," a model of a woman and two children, and the Academy exhibition for his bas-relief, "Alastor," was well-received. His bronze model of Puck attracted the attention of Tennyson, to whom he was later introduced by Patmore, and who became the subject of two famous busts.

His acquaintance with Dante Gabriel Rossetti escalated to membership in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but despite "My Beautiful Lady," Woolner averred to William Bell Scott that "[p]oetry is not my proper work in this world; I must sculpture it, not write it." Yet his success in sculpture and medallion portraiture yielded only modest financial reward, prompting him to try his luck in the Australian goldfields. When he sailed for Melbourne on 24 July 1852 the Rossettis, Hunt, and Ford Madox Brown accompanied him on board.

When the Australian venture proved unsuccessful, Woolner returned to England in 1854, seeking a commission for a statue of William Charles Wentworth, the father of Australian self-government. Failing this, he continued with busts of distinguished men. In 1857 he completed his Trinity College Tennyson, followed by his bearded Tennyson in 1873. His medallion of Wordsworth (now at Grasmere Church), among others, is credited with restoring the art of medallion portraiture. In 1871 he was named associate of the Royal Academy, where he was made academician in 1874.

Despite the remarks he made previous to his Australian excursion regarding poetry, Woolner fattened "My Beautiful Lady" (in Germ 1) with blank verse and couplets--to almost unbearable length--in an eponymous volume in 1863. Pygmalion (1881), Silenus (1884), Tiresias (1886), and Poems (1887) round out his literary oeuvre.