Morris Harding (1874 – 1964)
Polar Bear (1930)
George Frederick Morris Harding was born in Stevenage, Herefordshire in 1874. After brief spells at Cambridge University and the merchant navy, Harding found what would be his artistic calling, when he began training in sculpture at his uncle’s studio. His uncle was Harry Bates, an important figure in 19th century sculpture. A member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors, Harding worked in London, where he also taught sculpture and life drawing. In 1925, at the age of 51, he received what would be the major commission of his career when he was invited to work on the capitals of the columns at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. This, along with other work in the cathedral, would keep him occupied for over twenty years. During the Belfast Blitz, Harding, by now in his late 60s, volunteered to be on overnight fire watch at the cathedral. Fellow sculptor, Rosamund Praeger, encouraged him to settle in her hometown of Holywood, county Down. For a time, Harding shared Praeger’s studio in the town, where he carved the base for her famous ‘Johnny the Jig’ statue. Later he moved to a studio of his own in Church Road, Holywood. Other important commissions carried out by Harding in Northern Ireland include the tomb of the 7th Marquess of Londonderry at Mount Stewart, the arms of the Governor of Northern Ireland at Hillsborough Castle and the royal arms on Telephone House, Cromac Street, Belfast. An active member of the arts scene in Northern Ireland, he served as President of the Royal Ulster Academy for several years. In 1958 he was awarded an honorary Masters of Arts degree from Queen’s University Belfast but was too ill to attend the ceremony. He died in 1964 at the age of 90. Harding’s legacy is his work, which can still be seen today in churches, memorials and on building fronts across Northern Ireland, but despite this his name has been largely forgotten.
This sculpture exemplifies one of Harding’s favourite subject matters – animals, in particular polar bears. Harding was a member of the Society of Animal Painters and frequently included them in his sculptures. One of Harding’s first major commissions was for London Zoo in 1914, where he depicted polar bears on a series of relief panels. Harding continued to sculpt polar bears throughout his career, including this one held in a private collection and another at Queen’s University Belfast.