Beethoven 250

This year, the world is celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, the creative genius whose music continues to inspire and enrich our lives. The impressive portrait bust by Richard Garbe for Royal Doulton also inspires visitors at WMODA.

Richard Garbe’s bust of Beethoven was made in terracotta at Royal Doulton’s factory in London in 1933, a century after the great composer’s death. It is an excellent likeness of Beethoven based on death masks taken when he died in 1827. The attendant figures emerging from the clay suggest The Creatures of Prometheus, Beethoven’s only full-length ballet which he wrote in 1801. This allegorical ballet is based on the Greek myth of the Titan Prometheus who stole fire from Zeus in order to create mankind from clay. Prometheus represents the quest for human knowledge and ideas of science and art, which echo Beethoven’s own support of the Enlightenment movement. In the ballet, the humans meet Apollo, the god of the arts, and learn about music, dancing, tragedy and comedy. Beethoven’s career corresponded with the Romantic era of the early 1800s when Prometheus embodied the lone genius whose efforts to improve human existence could result in tragedy.

Beethoven represents the transition between the classical and romantic eras in classical music. The young piano virtuoso became famous for his innovative compositions in Vienna during the 1790s. He continued to perform his piano concertos and conduct his symphonies in the early 1800s, but his hearing gradually deteriorated resulting in complete deafness by 1811. The tortured genius then gave up performing and appearing in public. Beethoven’s musical career is often divided into three periods—his early Viennese style; his middle period when his large-scale works express his heroic struggle against his encroaching deafness; and his late period with highly personal compositions of great intellectual depth and formal innovations.

Richard Garbe (1876-1957) was one of the most distinguished sculptors of the Art Deco era. As well as his terracotta and stoneware work for Doulton’s Lambeth pottery, he designed the first limited edition figures for the HN series produced at the Burslem factory between 1933 and 1939. A special ivory porcelain body was developed for his sculptures, which were inspired by his ivory carvings, notably Primavera now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. His bust of Beethoven was issued as HN1778 in 1933 and reproduced in a limited edition of 25 which had sold out by 1939.

Garbe favored subjects from classical mythology and worked in a variety of materials including ivory, bronze, stone and clay. He was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy, a fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors, and head of sculpture at the Royal College of Art. His work is exhibited in museum collections around the world, including the Wiener Museum which features his ceramic commissions for Royal Doulton.

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Richard Garbe (1876-1957)

Hear the overture from the Creatures of Prometheus