Works included in this catalogue
Flaxman (after) Compositions from the Iliad of Homer 1805 {1857} SLV [IB]
Flaxman (after) Compositions from the Odyssey of Homer 1805 {1857} SLV [IB]
Flaxman (after) Compositions from the Divine Comedy of Dante 1807 {1857} SLV [IB]
Flaxman (after) Compositions from Hesiod 1817 {1857} SLV [IB]
Flaxman (after) Compositions from the Tragedies of Aeschylus 1831 {1857} SLV [IB]
Flaxman (after) Compositions of the Acts of Mercy 1831 {1857} SLV [IB]
Flaxman (after) Anatomical Studies 1833 {1857} SLV [IB]

See also:
Plaster Casts – I. Statues etc.: no.I.62: cast of Flaxman’s sculpture of Hercules and Hebe, presented 1863 (after an original dating from 1792)
Wedgwood [DA]: for Wedgwood’s blue jasper plaque of Hercules in the Garden of the Hesperides, c.1785-1800 (after Flaxman), extant in the NGV

A significant contributor to the development of Neoclassical art in Europe, Flaxman knew many of the major artists and writers of the era, including Blake, Canova, and others. Although he spent most of his career working as a sculptor, his greatest fame now seems to rest with the outline drawings he first produced in Rome in the late 1780s, later widely disseminated through engravings.

The son of a plaster cast manufacturer in London, he showed precocious early talent as a sculptor, studying and exhibiting at the Royal Academy in the early 1770s. From 1775, he was employed by Josiah Wedgwood as the designer of relief compositions.

In 1782, Flaxman married Anne Denman, and in 1787 the couple went to Italy, where he studied classical and modern art and produced the first of his series of line drawings after Homer, Dante and others. These were later published in the form of sets of engravings, most of them among the earliest acquisitions for the Melbourne Public Library (as listed above). Remarkable for their formal clarity and imaginative intensity, these compositions impressed and influenced a wide range of his contemporaries and successors (for details, see Symmons 1984). German writer August Schlegel (1799) hailed Flaxman for inventing a worthy graphic equivalent for the texts he illustrated, and English painter George Romney commented on the Iliad and Odyssey drawings: “They look as if they had been made in the age when Homer wrote.”

In 1797, he was made an Associate of the Royal Academy, and then a full Academician (1800), and was appointed the Academy’s Professor of Sculpture in 1810. Major funerary monuments constituted his main work during the later part of his life. After the death of his wife in 1820, he continued to live with her sister Mary Ann (also known as Maria) and his own half-sister Maria Flaxman, who together published further volumes of engravings of his drawings in 1831.

Besides the works listed above, Melbourne’s pre-Felton collection also included a plaster bust of Flaxman (source unknown): see Casts – II.Busts & heads (no.II.49). The NGV also holds a number of other works after or attributed to Flaxman, acquired after 1904.


See in particular David Bindman (ed.), John Flaxman, Royal Academy, 1979 (; Symmons Flaxman and Europe (1984), esp.p.23 (quoted); and Francesca Salvadori, John Flaxman: the Illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy, Royal Academy, 2005, including the quote from Romney (in David Bindman’s introductory essay, p.13)

August Schlegel’s essay “Uber Zeichnungen zu Gedichten und John Flaxman’s Umrisse” was published in Athenaeum II.ii (1799), pp.193-246: available online as (accessed 8 Feb.2021); my thanks to Biruta Flood for her help in translating key passages of this article (Feb.2021). For Schlegel’s enthusiasm for Flaxman’s drawings, see also Salvadori 2005, as cited above

For Mary Ann Flaxman, see; and for Maria Denman, see e.g. (Flaxman’s pencil portrait of her, in the Soane Museum)  

For the NGV’s current holdings of works by or after Flaxman, see and