'Ishmael in the Wilderness' Returned To Conservatory

Intriguing 19th Century statue restored to its rightful place in Chiswick House Grounds

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While visiting the Chiswick House Camellia Festival Mayor of Hounslow Cllr Colin Ellar snipped a ribbon to celebrate the restoration and return of an intriguing 19th Century statue of ‘Ishmael in the Wilderness’ to the Conservatory. Accompanying him was George Nissen (photo right), Chairman of the Friends of Chiswick House, which have generously funded the repair of the marble statue.

The statue was given to the Borough of Brentford and Chiswick in the 1950’s by Dr Morgan-Evans a local GP who practised in Chiswick for many years and the council chose to place it in Chiswick’s historic Conservatory. Sadly, probably during the time when the Conservatory fell into decay, the statue was badly broken and ended up in pieces and overlooked in an obscure part of the gardens.

‘Little was known of its provenance’, says Chiswick House and Gardens Trust Director Sarah Finch-Crisp, ‘until a conversation with the ladies of the Chiswick Women’s Institute in 2010 who were a mine of information and able to throw some light on its history. Chiswick House and Gardens Trust are immensely grateful to the Friends of Chiswick House for enabling the statue to be expertly repaired and returned to the restored Conservatory in time for our first Camellia Festival’.

Ishmael in the Wilderness

Photograph taken by Harry Barber, Gardener at Chiswick House c 1960’s

Statues (Left to Right)
1. Skipping Girl by Mary Thornycroft
2. Ishmael in the Wilderness
3. Nymph Preparing for her Bath by R.J Wyatt 1841

The 19th C marble statue of ‘Ishmael in the Wilderness’ was given to the Borough of Brentford and Chiswick in the 1950’s by Dr Morgan-Evans who practised in Chiswick for many years. The doctor had been given the sculpture by a patient. In 1954 the borough’s Open Spaces Committee considered placing the sculpture in the gardens as part of their planned improvements to the Grand Allee and Patte d’oie but on investigating its durability decided it should be placed indoors. It is likely that the statue was located in the Conservatory at that time.

The photograph above shows the statue in the Conservatory rotunda flanked by a statue of the ‘Skipping Girl’ which was stolen in 1969 and the ‘Nymph Preparing for her Bath’ which was taken into the house for safekeeping sometime prior to 1994 and where it can still be seen today. The statue of ‘Ishmael in the Wilderness’ was severely damaged, possibly during the late 20th Century when the Conservatory was falling into disrepair and suffering repeated vandalism.

In 2008 the shattered statue was moved out of one of the conservatory yard stores and left on a pallet in the walled garden where it languished until Chiswick House and Gardens Trust with generous funding from The Friends of Chiswick House arranged for it to be conserved and reinstated in the Conservatory.

(Wikipedia) ‘Ishmael is a figure in the Hebrew Bible, and later referenced in the Qur’an. Jews, Christians and Muslims believe Ishmael is Abraham’s eldest son and first born….. Islamic traditions consider Ishmael as the ancestor of Arab people’. Chapters 16-25 of the Book of Genesis contain the stories of Ishmael.

March 2, 2011