Papers of Edward Bainbridge Copnall

Scope and Content

The main component of the archive is a series of over 1000 photographs which document Copnall's work often including records of sculptures being made or installed, 1925-1991. They record his early paintings from the 1920s; architectural sculptures for churches in Liverpool, cinemas, the Royal Institute of British Architects building, 1934, the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth Cunard liners, 1930s-1940s, and many others; his fibre-glass sculptures; his religious sculptures; a glass screen commemorating Winston Churchill; and some of the design drawings for sculptures. There is also a set of photographs of Copnall. There are four sketch and notebooks and a substantial collection of c.250 drawings, c.1930-1970. Among these are sketch ideas, life drawings, presentation drawings, architectural plans and full scale design drawings on tracing paper which were used in the process of making his architectural reliefs. Further material consists of Copnall's typescript and drafts for his autobiography called Cycles, c.1960, unpublished typescripts and illustrations for his Guide to the History of Twentieth-Century Sculpture, c.1970, articles and lectures by Copnall, 1959-1966, a small quantity of letters and papers, 1953-1970 and a large number of press cuttings which record all the major commissions of his career, 1925-1974.

Administrative / Biographical History

Edward Bainbridge Copnall was born in South Africa in 1903 and came to England as a young child. He attended the Liverpool Institute and the Skinners School in Royal Tunbridge Wells, England. Copnall received his art training at Goldsmiths College and the Royal Academy Schools, finishing at the latter in 1924. Between 1924 and 1927 Copnall earned a living through portraiture but after encountering the work of Eric Kennington, Copnall turned to sculpture. An important early commission for Copnall was the sculptural scheme for the exterior of the new building for the Royal Institute of British Architects in Portland Place, London (1931-4). During the 1930s he was commissioned to make wood carvings for the 'Queen Mary' and 'Queen Elizabeth' liners. He also engraved the glass screens for the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square and created one of the stone figures on the corner of the Adelphi building.

During the Second World War Copnall served as a camouflage officer where he would advise troops on the importance of deception and camouflage. He was awarded an MBE for his services and at the end of the war he was given a studio at the British School at Rome where he painted portraits of officers. Between 1945-53 Copnall held the position of principal of the Sir John Cass School of Art, London.

During the 1950s he began experimenting with fibreglass in his art practice having been quick to see its sculptural potential. Copnall's first important work in the new material was 'Swan Man' for the ICT building, Putney Bridge. At the same time he continued to carve in stone and completed a series of carvings of actors and playwrights in Carrara marble for the exterior of the office building constructed on the former St James's Theatre site in London. He also received a number of commissions for portraits, amongst these was a statue of Manilall Maganlall, Doctor for Mauritius (1957-8) which statue stands in the Jardin de La Compagnie in Port Louis, Mauritius. Copnall was president of the Royal Society of British Sculptors from 1961-66.

Access Information

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Archivist's Note

Archive Hub description was created by Katie Gilliland

Biographical information from 'Edward Bainbridge Copnall', Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011 [, accessed 19 Nov 2015]

Related Material

Maquette for "The Word of God" is in the Leeds City Art Gallery collection.