Cast 1 (1904)

Early in the sculpture’s development, Watts identified the equestrian statue as an ‘expression of power’. On 29 December 1883, the Athenaeum reported on the progress of the sculpture, describing this equestrian statue in terms that could be interpreted as a reflection of the then current Imperialist thought:

"MR WATTS has made great progress with a colossal equestrian group, comprising a champion reining in his horse and looking steadfastly to the distance, shading his eyes while he gazes, as if in search of “lands unknown” to be conquered after he has subdued the known land in which he stands. This may be accepted as a type of active force, the world-subduing energy which conquers savagery and compels civilization."

By 1890, Watts had also made links between the sculpture and a lineage of conquest, suggesting: ‘I should like to write the roll of great names on the pedestal: Genghis Khan, Timon the Tartar, Attila, and Mahomet’.

The first connection between Physical Energy and Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), the Imperialist financier and statemen central to British expansion of Southern Africa, occurred when Watts was painting Rhodes’s portrait in May 1898. Rhodes was reportedly impressed by the monumental sculpture, suggesting it would be a suitable monument for his Cape to Cairo Railway: ‘I would write on the base the names of the first subscribers, and the words “These people believed that this scheme was possible”’.

Following Rhodes’s death in 1902, Lord Grey (former Administrator of Rhodesia and Director of the British South Africa Company) approached G F Watts to ask whether the sculpture could be cast as a memorial to Cecil Rhodes.  Watts agreed to cast the unfinished model providing that he retained the cast of the finished work for the nation.

Cast at Parlanti’s foundry in Parson’s Green (1902-4), Physical Energy was reported to be the largest sculpture ever to be made in bronze in Britain at that time. The colossal statue was exhibited in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1904, as part of the annual Summer Exhibition. Originally intended to mark Rhodes’s grave at ‘World’s View’ in the Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe, logistical difficulties prevented this from being realised.

Instead, the sculpture was relocated to Cape Town, South Africa, where it formed part of a memorial to Cecil Rhodes designed by the architect Herbert Baker (1862-1946) and completed in 1912, where it remains today.