Henri Michel Antoine Chapu
Life in Elmbridge
In the 1880's, Henri Chapu was commissioned to sculpt the effigy of Victoire Auguste Antoinette of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Duchesse de Nemours for St Charles Borrommeo chapel. The exact date and year the sculpture was made is unknown but academics date its creation between August 1881 and October 1883.
The Duchess was a cousin and close friend of both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. They both wished the completed monument to be placed in Weybridge where the Duchess had lived. Thus despite Chapu never having visited England during his lifetime, he still holds a tangible and important link with the borough through his work.
The pose of the Duchess is significant. She is shown as though she is asleep, with her hands gently draped over her chest - an iconic Chapu pose. Chapu's career from this point on was further with similar projects. His next commission after the Duchesse de Nemours being was an effigy to the 'Duchesse d'Orleans'- Victoire's sister-in-law.
After the monument reached its final resting place, Queen Victoria visited and stated how she was 'greatly satisfied with the monument and all the other arrangements in the chapel'.
Life beyond Elmbridge
Chapu started life as an artist after studying for five years in Italy as a young adult. He moved back to France after his studies and was commissioned publicly and privately to carve figures for railway stations, universities and department stores. He became known to the public in 1872 with an impressive monument to 'Joan of Arc at Domrémy', which showed her as a peasant girl praying.
During his life he won a number of prizes, becoming one of the most established French academic sculptors.
"Ideally if one wants to leave an immortal trace one should be entombed by Mr. Chapu."