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Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Cibber

The following text is from the National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977 (now out of print). For the most up to date research on the Collection, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text. This can be accessed by following the link with each portrait’s title.

In consulting the following, please note that apart from the reformatting which allows the printed catalogue to be made available on-line the text is as published in 1977. Footnotes in the original edition are given within square brackets.

Contents Foreword Introduction Catalogue scope Abbreviations Arrangement of entries

Colley Cibber (1671-1757)

Actor, poet, dramatist; entered the Theatre Royal 1690; author of Love's Last Shift, produced 1696, and numerous other plays; a stout supporter of the Hano­verians, he was named poet laureate, 1730; his autobiography, An Apology for the Life of Mr Colley Cibber, published 1740.

1045 From the workshop of the Cheeres (?), c.1740
Painted plaster bust, 26 1/2 in. (673 mm) high, on a small square socle; blue eyes of glass, long upper lip, mouth sunken and faintly red, complexion a high brittle red; black turban cap cast separately and removable, plain white stock, gold embroidered waistcoat, black coat.

Mrs Esdaile noted Roubiliac's apparent use of this illusionistic style on at least one other occasion, namely the bust of Isaac Ware, engraved by J.T. Smith, [1] and so ascribed NPG 1045 to this sculptor. However, since the discovery in 1955 of a marble (uncoloured) version of the Ware bust, her reading of the engraving would seem invalidated. Furthermore, J.G.V. Mallet has lately suggested analogies with the Cheere workshop: [2] Sir Henry Cheere (1703-81), contractor and sculptor, and John (d.1787) who was in the plaster trade. [3] The handling of the shoulders and drapery in NPG 1045, for instance, may be compared with the busts of Prior and Congreve from Kirkleatham, now in the Castle Museum, York. [4] If the work were indeed by Roubiliac, Walpole would surely have made some reference to it; in the case of the Cheeres, this would be less likely. The sitter's appearance suggests an age near seventy.

Condition: losses in the original paint touched in, presumably before acquisition in 1896; traces of damage to plaster in cap, drapery and left cheek. [5]

Collections: bought, 1896, from Mrs A. Wells; from the collection of the sitter and subsequently, Horace Walpole, a 'Bust of Colley Cibber, poet-laureat, in a cap, when old, coloured from the life, and extremely like. He gave it to Mrs. Clive, the celebrated actress; and her brother Mr. Raftor gave it, after her death, to Mr. Walpole'; [6] Strawberry Hill sale, George Robins, 13 May 1842 (17th day), lot 106; subsequently in the collection of Mr and Mrs Wells.

Literature: Horace Walpole, Description of Strawberry Hill, 1784; M.I. Webb, ‘Henry Cheere, Sculptor and Businessman and John Cheere', Burlington Magazine, C, 1958.


A portrait by Van Loo, mentioned by Vertue in 1737-8, [7] is now known only from G. Van der Gucht's head and shoulders engraving lettered Anno Aetatis 67, published 1740 as the frontispiece to Cibber's Apology. The same type was used for later engravings such as Edward Fisher's mezzotint, 1758 (CS 9), nearly whole length, showing the sitter with a girl, presumably his daughter. This composition, it has been suggested, is parodied in Hogarth's portrait of Garrick and his wife. [8] Fisher's engraving is lettered J. B. Vanloo pinx. 1740 but it is not known whether this implies a second sitting since no oil is now known. The portrait of the sitter as Lord Foppington in The Relapse by Giuseppe Grisoni, in the Garrick Club, [9] is undated. A number of engravings after it include one by J. Simon (d. c.1755) who does not appear to have engraved after about 1742. [10] A half length oval drawing at Windsor (4 1/4 x 3 1/8 in.) by W. Robins (fl.1715-40), signed and dated 1715, supposedly represents the sitter. [11] A whole length sketch by H. Gravelot was engraved by T. Priscott.


1. (pl.850). Esdaile, pp.108-9; H.M. Colvin, 'Roubiliac's Bust of Isaac Ware', Burlington Magazine, XCVII, 1955, p.151, pls 32-3.
2. Verbal, 1970.
3. Gunnis, pp.97-100.
4. Exh. 'The Man at Hyde Park Corner', Marble Hill House, Twickenham, 1974; Catalogue pls 15, 18.
5. Report by K. Hempel, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1970.
6. Description of Strawberry Hill, p.89; Catharine ('Kitty') Clive died 1785.
7. Vertue, III, p.82.
8 E. Wind, 'The Sources of David's Horaces', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, IV, 1941, p.137.
9. Adams, 1936 (11).
10. CS, III, 1061.
11. Oppé, p.84(503).

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