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Thomas Woolner

Thomas Woolner (1825-1892) was a British sculptor and poet. He was a founder-member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Woolner trained with the sculptor William Behnes, exhibiting work at thr Royal Academy from 1843. Woolner's classical inclinations were rather difficult to reconcile with Pre-Raphaelite Medievalism, but his belief in close observation of nature was consistent with their aims. Woolner's sculptures immediately after the foundation of the Brotherhood in 1848 display close attention to detail. He made his name with forceful portrait busts and medallions. Perhaps his most complex works are 'Civilisation' and 'Virgilia'. These demonstrate his attempt to express the tension between the static stone and the dynamic desires of the figures represented emerging into solidity from it.

Woolner was also a poet of some reputation in his day. His early poem 'My Beautiful Lady' is a Pre-Raphaelite work, emphasising intense unresolved moments of feeling. His later narrative works, 'Pygmalion', 'Silenus' and 'Tiresius' renounce Pre-Raphaelitism in favour of an often eroticised classicism. Woolner was a close friend of Alfred Tennyson, providing him with the scenario for 'Enoch Arden'. His speculations about human anatomy also impressed Charles Darwin, who named part of the human ear the 'Woolnerian Tip' after a feature in Woolner's sculpture 'Puck'.