John Henning metal relief plaque binding

John Henning, Jr. Large metal relief plaque designed for the upper cover of a bookbinding. 1822. Attached to a folio album with blank sheets. Graphic Arts GAX 2010- in process.

The Scottish sculptor John Henning (1771-1851), first saw the Elgin marbles at Burlington House on a visit to London in 1811. He stayed for the next twelve years copying the Parthenon reliefs. “I began to draw,” he wrote, “on August 16, 1811, which fixed me in the mud, dust, and smoke of London. I was so fascinated with the study, that I was there by sunrise every morning except Sunday, and even the cold of winter did not mar my darling pursuit.”

Henning began working in wax, then carving in ivory, and finally making slate moulds, from which plaster models were cast. By 1821, he completed enough to begin selling his casts, which were housed in mahogany cabinets with nine drawers to hold the series. The cost was £42 for a set approximately two inches high by twenty-four feet long.

Unfortunately, Henning failed to register for copyright on his work and thousands of reproductions were pirated and sold, bankrupting the poor sculptor. He went on to produce the the screen at Hyde Park Gate (1827) and the frieze around the Athenaeum (1830) in Waterloo Place but ultimately, died in poverty.

This metal relief, designed for the upper cover of a bookbinding, is signed Henning F 1822 (f stands for fecit or made by). The plaque contains two relief panels from his Parthenon series and two decorative angels. This might have been one of the many ways he hoped to market his reproductions of the Elgin marbles, although we have not found other examples of bookbindings by Henning.