William Behnes

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Bust of banker Joshua Bates, by William Behnes
Memorial to Sit Thomas Hardy by William Behnes in Chapel at Greenwich's Old Royal Naval College.
An engraving of John Jones's memorial in St. Paul's Cathedral, carved by William Behnes

William Behnes (1795 – 3 January 1864) was a British sculptor of the early 19th century.[1]


Born in London, Behnes was the son of a Hanoverian piano-maker and his English wife. His brother was Henry Behnes, also a sculptor, albeit an inferior one. The family moved to Dublin and there he studied art at the Dublin Academy.

After the family returned to London, Behnes continued his artistic training, studying at the Royal Academy School of Art from 1813, under the tutorship of Peter Francis Chenu.[2] As a painter, he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1815 and won several medals during the ensuing years. In 1819 he won a Society of Arts gold medal for inventing an instrument to assist sculpture work, having by this time begun to practice successfully as a sculptor.

In 1837 Behnes was appointed 'Sculptor in Ordinary' to Queen Victoria. His pupils included noted sculptors George Frederic Watts, Thomas Woolner and Henry Weekes,[3] and naturalist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins.

Despite huge success, being declared "superior to Chantrey" in bust portraiture, he could not manage his finances and was declared bankrupt in 1861. His final work, the statue of Sir Henry Havelock (1861) in Trafalgar Square, has the unusual claim to fame of being the first known statue based purely upon a photograph of his subject.

It is likely that he was an alcoholic and also a gambler, and this was worsened by bankruptcy. He moved to "miserable lodgings" in Charlotte Street.

He was found lying unconscious in a gutter, with only three pence in his pocket, on New Years Day 1864 and died on 3 January in Middlesex Hospital.

He was buried in an unmarked grave in Kensal Green Cemetery. George Cruikshank, who had known him, campaigned to raise money for a monument and to present a bronze bust of Behnes to the National Gallery, but there was little progress and the campaign was abandoned.[4]

In December 2016, a folio of 41 pages of Behnes' sketches (some double-sided) was sold at auction by Cuttlestones Auctioneers & Valuers at Penkridge in Staffordshire, for £2,200.[5][6] It includes sketches of the Duke of Newcastle, Sir Thomas Gresham, and Sir Robert Peel.


He produced many busts of children, reliefs and also some notable church monuments and statues, including ones of Dr William Babington in St Paul's Cathedral and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock (believed to be the first statue based on a photograph, two casts were made – one is today situated in Trafalgar Square, London, the other in Mowbray Park, Sunderland) and several of Sir Robert Peel (including ones situated in Leeds, Peel Park in Bradford, and at the police college in Hendon in north-west London). Other subjects included: Thomas Arnold, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin West and George Cruikshank.[4]


  1. ^ "William Behnes – Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851–1951".
  2. ^ "British bronze sculpture founders and plaster figure makers, 1800–1980 – C – National Portrait Gallery".
  3. ^ "Stevens T. 'Weekes, Henry (1807–1877)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 17 March 2008.
  4. ^ a b Dictionary of British Sculptors, 1660–1851, Rupert Gunnis
  5. ^ "Sketch book of sculptor William Behnes expected to fetch £1,000 – £1,500". Cuttlestones auctioneers and valuers. 26 November 2016. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  6. ^ "Fine Art & Antique at Penkridge Auction Rooms – lot 479". Cuttlestones Auctioneers & Valuers. 25 November 2016. Retrieved 2 December 2016.