John Henry Foley (1818-74)
…Guinness’ development and expansion of the Arthur Guinness & Sons brewery helped lay the foundations for what is now one of the most successful beer brands worldwide.
Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness was one of the most celebrated Irish entrepreneurs and philanthropists of the nineteenth century, whose development and expansion of the Arthur Guinness & Sons brewery helped lay the foundations for what is now one of the most successful beer brands worldwide. Surprisingly for a man of his status he was not often artistically portrayed and this highly accomplished sculpture represents an important addition to his visual record.
Benjamin was born in Dublin and was the third son of Arthur Guinness (1768-1855) and grandson of Arthur Guinness senior (1725-1803), founder and namesake of the famous brewery. Benjamin joined the company aged sixteen as an apprentice and in about 1840, after twenty years as a partner, took over management. The next twenty-five years saw a period of rapid expansion - sales of Guinness rocketed from 72,877 barrels between 1840 and 1844 to 341,572 by 1865-9 with markets expanding in both Ireland and Britain - helped in no small part by the development of transport infrastructure such as railways.
As Benjamin’s company grew as did his status within society and in 1851 he was elected First Lord Mayor of Dublin. From 1861 Benjamin became heavily involved with the restoration of the near dilapidated St Patrick’s Cathedral and over the course of its refurbishment donated a staggering £150,000 to the project. In memory of his generosity, a life-size bronze sculpture of Benjamin, also by John Henry Foley, was cast posthumously and erected in the churchyard in 1875.
Benjamin married his cousin Elizabeth (d.1865), third daughter of Edward Guinness (1772-1833) in 1837 and they had one daughter and three sons. Their daughter, Anne Lee, married William Plunket, 4th Baron Plunket (1828-97) in 1863, and their eldest son, Arthur Edward Guinness (1840-1915) (later created Lord Ardilaun of Ashford, Co. Galway), entered the family business and succeeded his father as 2nd Baronet. Their second son, Benjamin Lee (1842-1900), entered the army and later married Henrietta Eliza, daughter of Thomas St Lawrence, 3rd Earl of Howth (1803-74). Edward Cecil (1847-1927), their youngest son, later entered the family business with his elder brother and, like his father, played a prominent role as a philanthropist, giving vast amounts of money to protect both the welfare of his staff as well as the poorer members of society. Later in 1891 he was awarded a peerage of the United Kingdom as first Baron Iveagh.
This forceful, classically inspired portrait bust was carved by John Henry Foley in 1867 - no doubt in celebration of Benjamin’s baronetcy which was awarded in April that year and was until recently in the collection of the descendants of Benjamin’s eldest son Arthur Edward. Just a few years earlier, in 1865, Benjamin had also been elected to represent Dublin in parliament and such a commission would therefore have served to immortalise, in an established classical form, the brewer-turned-statesman.
As one of the most celebrated Irish-born sculptors of his day, John Henry Foley would have been a natural choice for the commission of this marble bust. Born in Dublin, Foley was the son of a grocer who, after training at both the Royal Dublin Society’s art schools and the Royal Academy Schools in London, experienced immediate success. Foley was highly favoured by the emerging middle to upper classes and many people of consequence sat to him, including William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865), the Irish astronomer and mathematician [Trinity College, Dublin].
Foley was also praised for his large-scale memorial works and his most ambitious work (and indeed most viewed with thousands of people passing it daily), is his sculpture commissioned by Queen Victoria for the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens - directly opposite the Royal Albert Hall. The design for the sculpture of Prince Albert, who is shown in gilded bronze and seated beneath a canopy designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78), was approved by Queen Victoria, though Foley died before the final cast was installed. The memorial is a visual reminder of the role Prince Albert played in promoting the Great Exhibition of 1851, in which the art, culture and industry of varying parts of the world was brought together and exhibited in a temporary structure in Hyde Park. Foley shows the prince seated wearing the Garter robes and holding a catalogue from the Great Exhibition, flanked by eight allegorical sculptures representing industry and the continents who were represented in the exhibition – the sculpture Asia was also carved by Foley, although the other seven works were carved by his contemporaries.
Other notable public works by Foley include his statue of the Irish novelist and poet Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74) of 1864 [Trinity College, Dublin] and his colossal monument to the Catholic politician Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847) which was completed after Foley’s death by his assistant Thomas Brock and unveiled in 1882.