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Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Roubiliac

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


Louis Francois Roubiliac (1705?-62)

Sculptor; born in Lyons probably of Huguenot parents; believed to have studied under Nicolas Coustou (1658-1733) in Paris; came to England soon after 1730, worked for Sir Henry Cheere and for Jonathan Tyers before setting up independently, c.1737; visited Rome, 1752, with Thomas Hudson; chief exponent of rococo style in England, his work includes important busts such as Ligonier and Hogarth (q.v.) and monuments of Handel (q.v.), the Duke of Argyll, etc. in Westminster Abbey.

2145 Attributed to Joseph Wilton, c.1761
White marble bust, 25 ½ in. (650 mm) high, excluding base; pupils incised, three horizontal lines in forehead, lips slightly parted, cleft chin, own hair, short, to above ears; cap with tassel pulled over his right ear, shirt unbuttoned at neck, coat with tasselled frogging.

Once called Voltaire and then Folkes, [1] identification of NPG 2145, though not entirely conclusive, rests on comparison with portraits of known authenticity and the supposed family likeness noted by Dominic Colnaghi after he had acquired the bust. When the sculptor's granddaughter visited his premises soon after, she was apparently received with the words: 'There is no need to ask what you have come about, Madam; the likeness is so unmistakable.' [2] The bust was then sold, as announced in The Athenaeum of 3 January 1852, to Francis Roubiliac Conder, great-grandson of the sitter. When last at Sotheby's in 1926, it was still described as a self-portrait and remained, after acquisition by the NPG, so attributed until now.

Although it is rare for a sculptor to take a bust of himself, Mrs Esdaile accepts the family tradition that Roubiliac executed a self-portrait which was exhibited anonymously and also sold anonymously. [3] While there were several items in the sculptor's posthumous sale called, 'mask of Mr. Roubiliac's', none is specifically described as a self-portrait. On the other hand, a self-portrait in oils is mentioned by Nollekens in the second sale, 11 June 1762. [4] The care-worn features shown in NPG 2145, reminiscent of the oil by Soldi of 1751, accord well with the concept of a late date, and the dress, natural hair and unbuttoned shirt, with the portrayal of an artist.

A 'Marble Busto' by Roubiliac, exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1760 (86) and 'A Bust' exhibited in 1761 (153) previously associated by Mrs Esdaile with the self-portrait, have now been identified from contemporary sources as Dr Frewin and Lord Ligonier. [5] In 1761 Roubiliac also exhibited a bust of Wilton (154) and Wilton exhibited 'A Bust of Mr. Roubiliac' (167) and 'Ditto in marble of Oliver Cromwell' (168). Now that Joseph Wilton is better known, it could well be that NPG 2145 is a particularly good example of his work, [6] perhaps the bust exhibited in 1761 or, since 'marble' is specified only for Cromwell, more probably a version of it. ‘Mr. Roubilliac by Mr. Wilton', [7]lot 8 under 'BUSTS in Plaister', 2nd day of the Roubiliac sale, 13 May 1762, may well be the plaster exhibited the previous year. As the Wilton bust was owned by Roubiliac, it may have been mistaken for a self-portrait.

Condition: slight cracks at the back of the shoulder and side of the neck, left.

Collections:presented, 1927, by the National Art-Collection Fund; from the James Thomson collection at Sotheby's, 18 July 1851, lot 162, as Voltaire, bought Colnaghi's, from whom purchased by the sitter's great-grandson Francis Roubiliac Conder; sold by the latter's great-nephew Dr A.F.R. Conder, [8] Sotheby's, 3 December 1926, bought Shilliter.

303 By Adrien Carpentiers, 1761?
Oil on canvas, 49 ½ x 39 ½ in. (1258 x 1004 mm); dark brown eyes, arched brown eyebrows, straight pointed nose, head clean shaven, drawn appearance; greenish-brown velvet cap pushed back from forehead, plain grey coat, white shirt open at neck, left sleeve undone; a statuette of Shakespeare on a stand, his right hand holding a tool close to the figure's head; plain grey background, lighter behind the sitter's head.

Signed, in light brown, bottom left: Adr. Carpentiers p: 1762.

If the date was added later, this may be the 'half length of Mr Roubiliac' ex­hibited by Carpentiers at the Society of Artists 1761 (8). Roubiliac died 11 January 1762 and the quality of NPG 303 suggests it is unlikely to be a repetition. The terracotta of his statue of Shakespeare commissioned by Garrick, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is dated 1757; the marble passed on the death of Mrs Garrick to the British Museum. A version of NPG 303 without date or signature, owned in 1931 by Kenneth Sanderson, is apparently the source of the mezzotint by D. Martin engraved 1765 when in the possession of R. Alexander of Edinburgh. Both show a large pair of callipers on the stand in addition to the two small tools shown in NPG 303. A number of scholars have taken this to be a repetition.

Condition: minor retouchings have discoloured, a possible pentiment on upper right forearm; surface cleaned, 1895.

Collections:bought 1870, from Mrs J. Noseda; presumably from the collection of General Durant of Tong Castle, Shropshire, who purchased the site, 1764, of an older castle there; listed, 1825, as in the possession of his son; [9] at Christie's sale, 1856, bought in; Tong Castle sale, Christie's, 20 April 1870, lot 42, bought Mrs J. Noseda.

Engraved: the type engraved by David Martin, 1765 (CS 6) and Thomas Chambars (O'D 2).

Exhibited: 'The French Taste in English Painting', Kenwood, 1968 (27).

Iconography

A detailed study appears in the biography by Mrs Esdaile. The first certain datable portrait is one noted by Vertue in November, 1751, ‘lately Mr Rubilliac the Statuary, his picture painted by Mr Soldi' [10] but an enamel attributed to Lens who died 1740, in the collection, 1928, of Dr Bellamy Gardner, is surely earlier. A signed version of the portrait by Soldi in which the sitter is at work on the figure of Charity for the Montagu tomb in Warkton Church, was acquired, 1914, by Dulwich College [11] from C. Fairfax Murray. The version signed and dated 1757/8 owned by the Garrick Club (601) showing the sculptor working on a bust of Garrick [12] is evidently the portrait, anonymous property, sketched by Scharf at Christie's, 3 March 1883, lot 84. [13] A pastel by an unknown artist, at Christie's, 20 March 1953, lot 53, attributed by the sitter's great-grandson to Cotes but surely too powerful for this artist, may be the pastel exhibited by Vispré at the Society of Artists in 1760 (63): 'Mr. Vispré. A celebrated painter in crayons, has two portraits: one of them the famous sculptor Roubiliac, the man himself alive, breathing and just going to speak; most admirable! and himself never cut in marble a better . . .'. [14]

The next dated work is the bust by Wilton exhibited in 1761, discussed under NPG 2145, and the oil by Carpentiers (NPG 303) probably exhibited in the same year. A self-portrait, perhaps the 'Portrait in oil, his first attempt', also exhibited in 1761 (64), [15]was last heard of when reported by Horace Walpole in the possession of Mr Scott of Crown Court: 'a sketch of Roubiliac's head in oil by himself, which he painted a little before his death'. [16] A lost portrait by Hudson is implied by lot 6, 2nd day of his sale, Christie's, 25 and 26 February 1785: 'Mr. Hudson. Portraits of Roubiliac and Faber.' [17]

Notes

1. First described as Voltaire in the manuscript catalogue, Sotheby's, 18 July 1851, lot 162; the Athenaeum, 19 and 26 July 1851 named it as Folkes, but Colnaghi, the purchaser at Sotheby's, confirmed that he had bought it as a self-portrait.
2. Esdaile, p.192.
3. Ibid, p.191.
4. Nollekens and His Times . . . J.T. Smith, ed. W. Whitten, 1920, II, p.37; summary in Esdaile, pp.229-30; no complete catalogue known.
5. Esdaile letter, The Times, 22 December 1926, and W.T. Whitley, unpublished letters 29 December 1926 and 7 January 1927, NPG archives.
6. T.W.I. Hodgkinson, verbal.
7. Esdaile, p.221.
8. Correspondence in 1968, NPG archives, with his descendant Anthony Lousada for whom a bronze of the bust was then made.
9. Neale, VIII, no.36 (98).
10. Vertue, III, p.159.
11. Exh. ‘Italian Art and Britain', RA, 1960 (155). In 1859 owned by J. Matthews, Birmingham, by whom it had been bought 'some 12 or 14 years ago from white', SSB, LIV, p.105 and Matthews’ letter, 11 August, 1859, NPG archives; Esdaile p.190 and note.
12. Same type as bust of Garrick attributed to Roubiliac (NPG 707A), Adams, 1936, p.184 (601).
13. SSB, 105, p.49A. For the earlier history of this or the Dulwich version, see Connoisseur,vol.186, 1974, p.181.
14. Imperial Magazine, or Complete Monthly Intelligensia,1760, p.246; compare with the Vispre of Mde. Roubiliac, Esdaile, pl.xlv.
15. Esdaile, p.148.
16. Anecdotes, III, p.759 and note 2, the portrait mistakenly equated with that of the sitter's father-in-law, lot 88 of the sale, 12 May 1762, cp Esdaile, p.221.
17. Esdaile, p.171.