John Cassidy - Sculptor
This site celebrates the life and work of sculptor John Cassidy (1860 - 1939).

Manchester faces and places : an illustrated record of the social, political, and commercial life of the cotton metropolis and its environs was a fascinating journal published in Manchester by John Heywood in Manchester. Vols. I-XI, 1889-1900 had this title, Vol. XII was Lancashire faces and places; it then  continued as simply Faces and places for Vols. XIII-XVII, 1901-06.

This article from Vol.9,
Issue 10 of 1898 is perhaps the best contemporary published account of Cassidy; we reproduce the full text here.

Website created and compiled by Charlie Hulme and Lis Nicholson, with the invaluable assistance of the John Cassidy Commitee, Slane Historical Society.

Comments and contributions welcome:

Facimile Title page of Manchester Faces and Places


The recent unveiling of the statue of Ben Brierley, in Queen's Park, Manchester, has doubtless made thousands of Lancashire people acquainted for the first time with the name of Mr. John Cassidy, the sculptor of that admirable work; but for several years Mr. Cassidy has been well known in artistic circles as a sculptor, not only of great promise, but of consider­able accomplishment, and as one who has already given such proofs of exceptional ability as to encourage the belief that he will eventually take a very high place in the profession of his choice. Although not a native of Manchester, Mr. Cassidy received his early artistic training in that city, and there he has elected to remain, steadily working towards the realisation of some of his ideals, acquiring, year by year, greater command over his materials, addi­tional technical skill, and a broader and surer comprehension of the essentials of his art. This close connection with Manchester invests Mr. Cassidy's career with a special interest to Manchester people, many of whom will, we feel sure, be pleased to have the following brief account of his life and work.

Mr. John Cassidy, of whom a portrait ap­pears in this number, is an Irishman by birth, having been born, in the year 1861, at Littlewood, near Slane, in the county of Meath, where his father had a farm of con­siderable extent. Mr. Cassidy's early educa­tion was received at a school in the neighbour­ing village of Slane, and was later supple­mented at Drogheda, where he continued his studies under a private tutor, At an early age he showed the possession of artis­tic tendencies, and expressed a desire to adopt art as a profession, but to this course his parents were strongly opposed, so he remained at home, taking an active part in the work of the farm, in which he was occupied until his twenty-first year. While thus employed he had never abandoned his early intention of becoming an artist, and missed no oppor­tunity of increasing his knowledge of draw­ing and painting, earnestly striving to pre­pare himself for what he instinctively felt was the only career upon which he could enter with energy and enthusiasm; and, eventually, when in his twenty-first year, he left Ireland, with the intention of studying art in London. Finding, on his arrival in London, that the school of art he intended to enter was temporarily closed, he, deeming time to be of the greatest importance, at once proceeded to Manchester, where he joined the Manchester School of Art, then under the headmastership of that able and distinguished teacher, Mr. R. H. A. Willis, who extended much help and encourage­ment to his ardent pupil.
Mr. Cassidy at once sedulously devoted himself to the study of outline drawing and designing, in which he made satisfactory progress; but, subsequently, when modelling in clay was made a new subject of instruction in the school, he turned his attention to that branch of art, this action; as events have shown, being the turning-point of his career. With a rare enthusiasm, he threw all his energy and ability into the study of sculpture, incessantly striving to increase his knowledge and skill, and with such suc­cess that within three years he gained two first prizes in the National competition, for decorative panels in relief; two silver and three bronze medals, several Queen's prizes, the "Owen Jones" prize, and the "Hey­wood" prize, which he received as awards for diverse studies in sculpture.

Greatly encouraged by these and other successes, Mr. Cassidy, on leaving the School of Art, decided to enter actively on the work of his profession, and shortly after­wards was invited to demonstrate the model­ling of portraits from life, at the Manchester Royal Jubilee Exhibition, in 1887, where he was busily engaged, for some months. His studio was one of the attractions of the exhibition, and was daily visited by upwards of eight thousand people, who evinced the deepest interest in seeing a portrait grow in some forty or fifty minutes under his skilful hands. Mr. Cassidy executed upwards of two hundred portrait busts from life while at the exhibition, and received commissions for nearly two hundred more, to be executed afterwards in marble or bronze. Few who came to the exhibition failed to visit Mr. Cassidy's studio, where he had the honour of receiving visits from members of the Royal Family, and other distinguished per­sonages. One day Mr. Cassidy had an interested visitor in the person of H.R.H, the Duke of Cambridge, who, after closely following the work of modelling for some time, made a remark in Italian, to which Mr, Cassidy was induced the reply, "Je ne comprend pas, votre altess," after which the Duke spoke in English.

The work continued daily in the exhibi­tion was naturally very arduous, and it was not carried on under the conditions most agreeable to an artist, who usually prefers more quietness and less interruption than then fell to the lot of Mr. Cassidy; but the experience was valuable in many ways, and there were occasional humorous incidents which did much to lighten the task he had undertaken, One such occasion was when a group of about a dozen people, evidently, judging from their accent, hailing from East Lancashire, approached the studio, and one of the number, who, as the self-constituted leader of the party, was not lacking in con­fidence, nor given to concealing  his "uni­versal knowledge," peered into the modelling room, where, at the time, Mr. Cassidy was busily engaged in preparing the clay, by rolling it into pieces, so that it might be the easier handled, and upon being asked by his companions, who had remained outside, "What's goin' on in theer, Billy?" rather surprised, and certainly did not compliment, the artist, by replying, "Theer's nobbut a mon makin' bricks, coom on."

Another experience was that of receiving a visit from a number of ladies, one of whom was evidently an old maiden lady, who, after various members of the party had charac­terised the skill of the artist as being "wonderful," "marvellous," "surprising," etc., was overheard
to say, in referring to the artist, "I wonder if he can speak English?" to which a younger lady replied: "Ask him; I don't think he would mind," After some little hesitation, the old lady inquired: "May I ask, Mr. Artist, of what nationality you are?" Mr, Cassidy, entering into the humour of the situation, invited them to guess, and, thus encouraged, came, "Are you Italian?" "No." "Well, Spanish?" " No." Surmises that he was French, German, Russian, or English, fol­lowed in quick succession, and, as all were incorrect, they then said: "Well, we'll give it up; what are you ?" but when Mr. Cassidy replied, "Irish," the old lady, in a disappointed tone, remarked, "Oh, he's only an Irishman after all."

But, perhaps, one of the most amusing incidents related by Mr. Cassidy is reference to a gentleman with whom he had made arrangement to come on a certain day for the purpose of sitting for his portrait. Prompt to the hour appointed the subject arrived, but Mr. Cassidy was somewhat surprised and amused to find that in the meantime his patron's beard had disappeared, while his hair had been closely cut. When he had taken his seat on the dais, he appeared very uneasy and timid, and, noticing this, Mr. Cassidy asked if he were uncomfortable, and also why he had discarded his beard, to which the "patient" gave the unexpected reply: "So that the plaster would not stick in my hair and beard, Sir," for he had actually been under the impression that the pouring of plaster of Paris over his head and face formed part of the process necessary to the production of a portrait bust.

Shortly after the close of the Exhibition, Mr. Cassidy opened a large studio in the centre of Manchester, where he executed many important commissions, including busts in bronze or marble of Cardinal Vaughan, Sir Humphrey and Lady de Trafford, the late Mr. Carl Rosa, and the late Sir Charles Hallé, etc.

In 1894 Mr. Cassidy received a commission from Mrs. Rylands to execute a marble statue of her late husband, to be placed in the John Rylands library, and later he was entrusted with the execution of a group of three large figures, representing Religion, Science, and Art, intended for the vestibule of the library buildings.

It would be difficult to give a full list of Mr. Cassidy's works, but brief reference may here be made to some of the more notable examples of his skill. In 1896 he took part in a competition, open to all England, for a monument of Edward Colston, the philan­thropist, to be erected at Bristol, and from the thirty-two designs submitted, the one by Mr. Cassidy gained the approval of the com­mittee, by whom he was entrusted with the commission to execute it in bronze. The statue, which is upwards of eight feet in height, represents the great philanthropist in the dress of the seventeenth century, thoughtfully leaning upon his staff; and around the
pedestal, which stands ten feet above the pavement, are bronze tablets depicting incidents in the life of Colston. Among other fine Works by Mr. Cassidy, is a statue of her Majesty the Queen, erected in front of the new Royal Jubilee Schools, Belfast, in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee. This statue, which is of the finest Portland stone, is upwards of eight feet in height, and represents her Majesty standing, crowned, and holding in her right hand an olive branch, and  in her left a sceptre. This, we understand, was the first statue of the Queen erected in Ireland. For Queen's Park, Bolton, Mr Cassidy executed an admirable statue of Dr. James Dorrian, a well-known local physician and philanthropist; and for Aberdeen he has produced the model of a figure of "Hygeia" which is to be reproduced in granite.

Perhaps one of the must successful of Mr. Cassidy's efforts is the life-like statue of the late Ben Brierley, now in Queen's Park, Manchester, having been presented to the city by a number of the admirers of the genial Lancashire humorist. The statue, of which a view appears in this number, is of white Portland stone, and represents "Owd Ben," as he was admiringly called, in a characteristic attitude, with the left arm raised, and the right arm hanging by his side. He holds in his left hand some leaves of a manuscript from which he is reading, and his right hand rests on some papers placed on a pedestal. The figure is full of dignity and strength, while the sculptor has been singularly successful in producing a simple and natural portrait of the man, which appears all the more creditable when it is stated that he had to work entirely from photographs, having only once casually met the  Lancashire writer. Already numbers or Brierley's admirers from all parts of I the country have visited the park to view the statue, and many have been heard to express their satisfaction with its remark­able resemblance in figure and features to the man it commemorates; indeed, it was only a few weeks ago that two men from Rochdale were seen closely examining it, and the elder of the two, after spelling out the simple words, "Ben Brierley," engraved on the pedestal, was overheard to say, in broad Lancashire dialect: "What a silly thing to put that theer; why, everybody can see it's 'Owd Ben.'"

That Mr. Cassidy is a strenuous and a facile worker is shown by the fact that during the time he was engaged upon the important works we have mentioned he was a regular exhibitor at several of the leading London exhibitions, where his work attracted considerable attention. His ex­hibited study, entitled "A Digger," repre­senting a stalwart labourer on the Manchester Ship Canal works, eventually found a place in the permanent collection of the City Art Gallery, to which has since been added the fine bronze "terminal" por­trait-bust of Mr Henry Clarence Whaite, P.R.C.A.; R.W.S., the well-known artist. The bust was exhibited at the New Gallery, London, in 1896, where also Mr, Cassidy's impressive composition representing "John and Sebastian Cabot" was shown in the following year.

Considering that only about fourteen years have elapsed since Mr. Cassidy commenced the serious study of art, he has made remarkable progress, and has already become widely-known as an artist of considerable power and originality, who may yet add considerably to his already high reputation. Earnest and enthusiastic, with much of the poetic feeling and fervour so characteristic, of his race, devotedly attached to his art, and having high ideals and aspirations, Mr. Cassidy is a man of whom much may be expected, and his numerous friends and admirers have every confidence that he will eventually realise many of their anti­cipations.