An appeal launched by York’s Fairfax House to save a seventeenth century work by a woodcarver dubbed ‘The Michelangelo of Wood’ has been successful. Grinling Gibbons, considered Britain’s greatest decorative woodcarver (who became the Royal carver to King Charles II) spent his formative years in York from 1667 – 1671, working for York architect John Etty. He went to London to make his fortune, but kept in touch with the Etty family. The diarist John Evelyn wrote about the fineness of his work, 1671, and introduced him to the royal household.
Gibbons’ earliest known work is a carved high relief oak panel depicting a heavenly concert led by King David with Saint Cecilia also playing. This is the only known sculpture from Gibbon’s time as a young master craftsman in York. It reveals his remarkable talent when he was little more than 20 years old. The panel recently went on the international art market (having been in private collectors’ hands for many years). The art gallery owners were willing to withdraw it from sale if Fairfax House and York Civic Trust could raise the funds to acquire it.
The Heritage Lottery Fund, Yorkshire, the Art Fund, the Arts Council England/V & A purchase fund were all generous, as were many other groups and individuals. Enough has been raised to acquire the panel and to arrange a suitable display case in 2018. Here is a link to the appeal on the Fairfax House website.