The Sad Tale of William Pink

20 Sep

A couple of years ago I went to an exhibition at our local gallery and amongst the eclectic mix of curiosities was Smugglerius, an écorché of a smuggler who was skinned after being hanged at Tyburn in the eighteenth century. An écorché is a sculpture cast from a flayed body. The original Smugglerius was made by Agostino Carlini in bronze in the classical pose of The Dying Gaul, but this has been lost and only plaster casts, made by William Pink in the 1850s, remain and this écorché was nicknamed after him.  It used to be common for art students to draw from écorchés.

Ink drawing: William Pink and a festival fan.

I was visiting the exhibition with my sister, who is not an artist and she found William Pink utterly horrifying, so I went back a few days later to draw him.  At first I looked at him dispassionately, thinking it was just a plaster cast, but the amazing detail of the flayed body gradually made me feel more uncomfortable and I was eventually overcome with compassion for this poor soul who had lived in much more brutal times. Nobody is sure of his identity or even if he really was a smuggler – he might have committed some truly terrible crimes, but equally he might have been hanged for something relatively trivial, as so many people were in those sad days.

I took this sketchbook with me a few weeks later to the Green Man Festival in the lovely Usk Valley. I spent a happy few days wandering round listening to fab music, Jarvis Cocker headlined, and I sketched people around me. I noticed this young man sitting in a similar pose to William Pink and drew him on the same page. I am struck by the difference in their existences; the privileges we take for granted and how we are so lucky that our lives are relatively untouched by brutality and extreme poverty.


4 Responses to “The Sad Tale of William Pink”

  1. boomerontario September 21, 2011 at 05:07 #

    Yet again, I love your posts. Thank you

  2. Another Elephant's Child September 20, 2011 at 21:02 #

    “he might have committed some truly terrible crimes”
    Probably not. In the 18th century people where hanged for the most minor of crimes. Whoever he was, the poor man was probably little more than poor.
    Fascinating, I’d never heard of an écorché before.

    • Rosie Scribblah September 20, 2011 at 21:36 #

      I had never heard of them until I saw poor William Pink in the exhibition. Apparently medical students also used to study from them as well.

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