New sculptures at TCD

Left to right: Augusta Gregory by Guy Reid, Rosalind Franklin by Vera Klute, Ada Lovelace by Maudie Brady, Mary Wollstonecraft by Rowan Gillespie.

The spectacular setting of the collection of busts in the Long Room, Trinity College Dublin, has always proved compelling. Established in 1743 with a bequest of £500 ‘for the purchase of busts of men eminent for learning’, which were intended to be inspirational, the collection included no portraits of women. This exclusively male group has now been challenged. In 2019, the names of 500 eminent women, proposed by students, staff and alumni of the university, were under consideration to join the club. Four groundbreaking women were subsequently chosen for portrayal and, in 2021, after a national and international search, the sculptors were selected.

The new busts are: scientist Rosalind Franklin (1920–1958) by German, Irish-based sculptor Vera Klute; writer and theatre founder Augusta Gregory (1852–1932) by Anglo-French Guy Reid; mathematician Ada Lovelace (1815–1852) by Australian Maudie Brady; and women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) by Irish sculptor Rowan Gillespie. All making hugely significant contributions to the sciences and the humanities, three of these brilliant women were dead before the age of 40.

Mimicking the material of those already in place in the library, the new busts are all white. The Wollstonecraft and Lovelace portraits, both in Carrara marble, are the work of sculptors more usually associated with working in bronze. Initially modelled in wax and clay respectively, the two images were transferred to stone using 3D scanning. Portrait sculptor Reid carved his bust of Lady Gregory in limewood, connecting her to the woods of her home at Coole Park. Klute created her Franklin in three sections, employing different materials and presenting a richly textured finish. The young scientist is portrayed wearing a crystal necklace, which serves to reference her use of X-ray crystallography, but which is also an eye-catching detail among the many busts of men in the room.

The unveiling of the new busts took place in the Long Room on St Brigid’s Day, 1 February, with the artists in attendance.

Paula Murphy