'a medal in very bold relief': Sir Edward Sharpey-Schafer

NPG 4581 © The National Portrait Gallery, London
Sir Edward Sharpey-Schafer
by Charles d'Orville Pilkington Jackson
bronze medal, 1922
2 in. (51 mm) diameter
Given by the sitter's daughter, Miss G.M. Sharpey-Schafer, 1967
Primary Collection
NPG 4581

Sir Edward Sharpey-Schafer's pupils and fellow research workers in London and Edinburgh set up an international subscription to present him with a token of their esteem. This took the form of a full sized mounted portrait plaque by Charles d'Orville Pilkington Jackson, illustrated in Nature magazine for 30 November 1922. Each subscriber received a medal which was a reduced version of the plaque. The medal reverse is inscribed, 'SODALI BENE MERITO SODALES BENE VOLENTES' (To a well deserving colleague from his fellows who wish him well). This example was given to the Gallery by Sharpey-Schafer's daughter in 1967.

The sculptor’s papers in the collection of the National Library of Scotland throw extensive light on the production of the relief and the associated medals. It is clear that Sharpey-Schafer played a very active role in the process, selecting the sculptor, sitting to him and proposing the inscription. The commission began with Sharpey-Schafer writing to Jackson in July 1921 to enquire whether he would undertake a ‘medallion or small plaque (in bronze) with a portrait’ that some of his former associates were proposing to present him.

Work got underway in November that year when Jackson requested an estimate from an old associate, the medalist and modeller, William Midgley, for cutting a reduced medal die from his large-scale model. Midgley was headmaster of the Birmingham Municipal School of Art. He advised Jackson that his model needed to be between four and eight times the diameter of the proposed medal.

Initially the commission proceeded at speed. Sharpey-Schafer sent Jackson the text for the inscriptions on both sides of the medal, which Jackson then forwarded to Midgley, warning him, ‘I am frightfully particular about lettering’. At the same time Jackson arranged for a leading Edinburgh photographer, Drummond Young, to take profile photographs of his subject and he also attended one of Sharpey-Schafer’s lectures to see him in action.

In March 1922 the relief was sufficiently far advanced for it to be cast by M’Donald & Creswick Ltd, ‘Bronze founders (Cire Perdue) and Metal Workers’. Their foundry at 20 Harrison Road, Edinburgh, was well known to Jackson since he had once had a studio there. M’Donald & Creswick sent Jackson the relief with a message that if he did not like the colour he should send it back with their boy.

Three months later, in June 1922, the production of the medal was put in hand by Midgley who explained to Jackson that Elkington’s, the Birmingham electroplaters, would take about three weeks to make an electrotype in reverse from Jackson’s large plaster, a necessary part of the process given the need to reverse the image in order to cut the die for the medal. Midgley offered to send Jackson wax impressions from the die before the medals were cast.

Quite why it was not until November that the work was sufficiently complete for Midgley to invoice Jackson is unclear. Midgley charged £9 for two dies, that is front and back of the medal, £12.8s for striking 62 medals at 4 shilings each, £3.17s.6d for 62 cases, which, with ancillary charges, brought the total cost to £33.3s.6d. A few months later, in February 1923, Midgley invoiced Jackson for a further 24 medals, which were cast to satisfy unexpected international demand.

Jackson had a very particular effect in mind for the medal. He was, he said, ‘making the medal in very bold relief to try and obtain the old Italian effect’. And indeed, there is something about the medal which pays homage to the work of Pisanello and other 15th century Italian medallists.

Jacob Simon, Research Fellow, December 2012.