Executed during a time of immense conflict between the British Empire and India, the present sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi is governed by social and political angst. Clare Sheridan’s international reputation saw her struggle to balance her artistic stance between Eastern and Western, philosophical and aesthetic approaches.

Clare Sheridan took to sculpture as a means of release and escape from personal crisis. In a simultaneously tragic and celebratory artistic act, she created a funeral monument for her first daughter, Elizabeth, who died during her infancy.

A further need for artistic therapy came in 1915 with the death during the First World War of her husband, Wilfred – said at the time of their marriage to have been the best-looking man in England. When his body was found, its pocket contained a note to her that read, ‘I can leave you nothing, darling, except the memory of years, and you know what our life together has been. Surely if perfection is...


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Executed during a time of immense conflict between the British Empire and India, the present sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi is governed by social and political angst. Clare Sheridan’s international reputation saw her struggle to balance her artistic stance between Eastern and Western, philosophical and aesthetic approaches.

Clare Sheridan took to sculpture as a means of release and escape from personal crisis. In a simultaneously tragic and celebratory artistic act, she created a funeral monument for her first daughter, Elizabeth, who died during her infancy.

A further need for artistic therapy came in 1915 with the death during the First World War of her husband, Wilfred – said at the time of their marriage to have been the best-looking man in England. When his body was found, its pocket contained a note to her that read, ‘I can leave you nothing, darling, except the memory of years, and you know what our life together has been. Surely if perfection is attained we have attained it’.

Distraught, in the summer of 1920, the sculptor was invited, by the first Soviet Russian trade delegation to visit London, to travel to Russia and create busts of prominent revolutionaries. To the considerable humiliation of Churchill, then the Secretary of State for War, she accepted and quickly secured introductions to the highest echelons of the Soviet administration, executing busts of both Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. Enthralled by the single-minded, firebrand idealism of Trotsky, Sheridan embarked on an affair – one of many – with this, the antithesis of the British aristocrat in whom she was socially expected to find a match. This ‘rebellious’ act attracted the attention of MI5, who subsequently identified her as a ‘dangerous propagandist’ and collected an archive of life-long evidence that suspected her of intimate relations with, and even spying for, the Soviets.[1]

The scandalised high English society cast her out upon her return in 1921. No shrinking violet, Sheridan was little inclined to hush up her dalliance. Instead, prompted by literary ambitions that had been stoked in her youth by such figures as Henry James and Rudyard Kipling, she decided to move to the United States, where she could write up her Russian experiences in a book sensationally titled From Mayfair to Moscow. On her way, she used her vivaciousness and charm to secure an interview with Benito Mussolini, who expounded to her of his loathing of the lower classes. In America, her notoriety provided no stumbling-block in high society, where she swam with the biggest stars of the day, including Charlie Chaplin. So inseparable were the two that their engagement was mistakenly and inaccurately announced in the New York press.

By the mid-1920s, her reputation as a sculptor had begun to eclipse her one-time dalliance with the Soviets, and she was re-integrated into British society. Using her aristocratic connections, she began to acquire prime commissions, including of the Former-Prime Minister, Lord Asquith. Although continuing to write, her growing artistic success caused her to focus on her occupation as a sculptor of portrait busts. Yet, possessed of a wanderlust that could not be suppressed, this simply led the artist to complete still more daring feats of travel. In 1925, she moved as far afield as Algeria, purchasing a house on the outskirts of the inhospitable Sahara Desert that was to become the subject of one of her subsequent works of prose.

However, tragedy continued to stalk Sheridan’s life. In 1937, her son, Richard, died at the age of twenty-one. As before, grief moved the sculptor to ever greater flights of creativity, and in the years that followed her art took on an exciting new lease of life. She moved to an artist’s colony in North America, where took up wood carving. The result was a series of totemic sculptures, which sought to channel the mystical spirit of the landscape in the fashion of the local Native American peoples. When she returned to London in 1938, the striking new work was well received, including the powerful Madonna and Child that served as the memorial to her son.

In spite of her pacifism, Sheridan spent the majority of the Second World War with Churchill and his wife, Clementine. Here she executed a series of penetrating likenesses of the wartime Prime Minister, sometimes in the bunkers of Downing Street themselves, where she recalled his appearance in the half-gloom as a ‘Hogarthian figure with cigar and spectacles’.

This was not enough to grant Sheridan academic recognition. A woman artist who operated outside the academy, Sheridan experienced much discrimination and found great difficulty in getting her works exhibited at the Royal Academy. Even a bust of Churchill himself was not enough to gain entry to the Academy’s stuffy and exclusive summer exhibitions, with the sculptor complaining bitterly to her sitter that: ‘it seems to me that they should dare to throw out a head of you, the head of the nation’.

The present work is evidence, not only of her skill as a sculptor, but of her extraordinary ability to integrate with individuals from utterly opposing walks of life. As cousin to Winston Churchill, the significance of sittings with Gandhi cannot be overstated. In reflection, Sheridan stated;

To have been privileged to know Gandhi, to be called his friend, is something I feel which touches one's aura with a tinge of gold. At parting he said to me: "I have grown to love you, I shall never forget you...[2]

Sheridan’s sittings with Gandhi certainly affected her and as they became close, they discussed their varying backgrounds. She suggested;

Gandhi held forth on the necessity of eliminating hate. He affirmed that he did not hate the English, although he was obliged to fight them, for the Indian masses must be liberated. But the unwavering relentless fight would be non-violent.[3]

Few twentieth-century artists can lay claim to having made likenesses of the epoch’s greatest historical protagonists. Having depicted Asquith, Lenin, Trotsky, Gandhi and Churchill in bronze, Sheridan could at the end of her life reflect on her singular achievement in the peace that she found in Ireland, where she moved following the cessation of hostilities.

[1] (2017) ‘This wild cousin of mine’ – Clare Sheridan, a portrait [Online]. Available at: https://chiswickauctions.co.uk/this-wild-cousin-of-mine-clare-sheridan-a-portrait/ (Accessed: 20/01/2020)

[2] Sheridan, C., (1957) Gandhi Marg, New Delhi, Vol.1. No.2. p.140.

[3] Sheridan, C., (1957) Gandhi Marg, New Delhi, Vol.1. No.2. p.136-140.

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500 Years of British Art