Born in Clapham, he was apprenticed for seven years, in 1725 to a haberdasher but seems later to have been trained by his brother, Henry (1703-1781), who by 1733 was a highly successful sculptor specialising in public statues, funerary monuments and chimney pieces. In 1737, with Henry's financial help, John started trading as a manufacturer of lead statues and plaster busts with a workshop and yards near Hyde Park Corner. This area was already a centre for lead casters and carvers and John Cheere may have taken over the yard of Andrew Carpentier (167?-1737) who had supplied both lead and stone statues for many great estates in the 1720s and 1730s.
John quickly built up a thriving business mass producing lead and plaster statues, statuettes and busts. Many of his lead garden statues were from moulds of famous Greek or Roman statues which would have been familiar to many of his aristocratic clients, who would have seen the originals on the Grand Tour. He also copied, probably from engravings some of the statues in Louis XIV's gardens at Versailles - the group of the seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter was particularly popular. Some of the statues which John Cheere produced in the fashionable rococo style he probably designed himself.
His yard, which could be seen by travellers arriving by stagecoach from the West, was illustrated in Hogarth's 'Analysis of Beauty' (1753). Hogarth's depiction of the yard seems from surviving contemporary written descriptions to be accurate and shows at least some of his wide range of stock. It has been suggested that the figure being hauled up by the rope is the St Helier statue of George II but in the engraving the cloak falls from the shoulders rather than from the waist. This figure, I think, bears more resemblance to John's statue of William III which is at Wrest Park and based upon his brother Henry's marble which was commissioned for the Bank of England. Two other of John' s commissions for Royal statues were of William III on horseback for Petersfield in Hampshire (1753) and Frederick, Prince of Wales, for Hartwell House (1759).
In the late 1760s with the changes in taste in garden design and the vogue for 'natural' landscape gardens, lead statues began to go out of fashion and in the nineteenth century were despised as mediocre examples of mass production. Many were melted down or just allowed to deteriorate beyond repair. Today, highly prized, they are subjects for both theft and vandalism and thus most of Cheere's statues have disappeared without trace.
John Cheere also had a flourishing business in making plaster heads and busts for interior designers. These plaster works could be 'finished' to resemble bronze. They were in demand for libraries and his small 'bronzed' statuettes for side tables and chimney pieces. He also made large size plaster statues for interior use copied from famous antique originals for the halls and galleries of Adam style neo-classical interiors. Robert Adam indeed used Cheere's products. When John Cheere died in 1787 his remaining stock was sold off and his yard, which by now was located in a rapidly becoming fashionable area of London, closed down.
Apart from an exhibition of his plaster busts and statuettes in 1974 there has been little scholarly interest in his work and there is frequent confusion in books and articles between his output and that of his brother, Henry. Unfortunately few examples of John Cheere's work are on public display, though some are 'in store' in museums (i.e. the V&A) and art galleries. Some of his statues can be seen at Stourhead (National Trust), Wrest Park (English Heritage), Anglesey Abbey (National Trust), Castle Howard and the Palace of Queluz in Lisbon. Most private owners of his work are reluctant to publicise their possessions.
(Text kindly provided by Moira Fulton)
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