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Alexander Pope

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Alexander Pope

by John Michael Rysbrack
marble bust, 1730
20 5/8 in. (524 mm) high
Purchased through the National Heritage Memorial Fund, 1986
Primary Collection
NPG 5854

Sitterback to top

  • Alexander Pope (1688-1744), Poet. Sitter associated with 46 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • John Michael Rysbrack (1694-1770), Sculptor. Artist or producer associated with 15 portraits, Sitter in 7 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This bust was carved for Pope's architect James Gibbs and was described by Horace Walpole as 'very like'. Pope suffered from curvature of the spine, probably caused by Pott's disease. His enemies mocked his body and attacked this bust while it was still in progress in 1729, as 'half man, half monkey'. To which Pope replied in verse: Tis granted Sir; the Busto's a damn'd head, Pope is a little Elf, All he can say for't, is, He neither made, The busto, nor himself.

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David Bridgwater

25 August 2020, 15:47

Gordon Balderston has written at length on Rysbrack and about the busts of James Gibbs and Alexander Pope by Rysbrack in The Georgian Group Journal vol XI - 2001.
seemy blog post -

Both of these busts had been put up for sale at Messrs Christie and Ansell on Thursday 27 March 1780 and the following day, by the impecunious Sir George and Lady Chalmers, who had been advised to do so by Sir William Chambers (1723 - 96).

Lot 88 was described as 'A fine bust of Jac. Gibbs by Rysbrack', the bust of Pope was the following lot 89 which as a result of a printing error had been added, along with the next three lots to the catalogue by hand.

The Chalmers had inherited the busts from the Scottish, and Catholic painter Cosmo Alexander (1724 - 72), originally from Aberdeen, who in turn had inherited them from James Gibbs. Isabella Chalmers was Cosmo's sister.

Gibbs had died a bachelor on Monday 5th August 1754. He left the bulk of his estate, 7 houses to four of his friends, Cosmo Alexander inherited Gibb's home at 5 Henrietta St. This bequest also included the contents and the busts of Alexander Pope and James Gibbs.

'my leasehold estate in houses being six in the parish of Saint Mary le Bon and one in Argyle ground in the parish of St James Westminster...
Item I give and bequeath to Mr Cosmo Alexander my house I live in with all its furniture as it stands with pictures bustoes etc with its original lease and insurance from fire he paying the ground rent and Kings Taxes'.

Because of his Jacobite sympathies Cosmo Alexander he was declared a wanted man after the battle of Culloden sought refuge abroad and was living in Rome from Easter 1747 until June 1751. He emigrated to America in 1766. His sister Isabella (d. 1716 April 1784) had married in Edinburgh, Sir George Chalmers another Scottish artist, on 4 June 1768. They in turn inherited Gibbs house and contents.

The bust of Gibbs was knocked down at the sale to Horace Walpole for 7 guineas and shortly afterwards it was placed in the Star Chamber at Strawberry Hill where it remained until it was sold in the great Strawberry Hill Sale of 1842, where it was lot 99 described as 'A noble marble bust of Gibbs the architect, finely modelled and beautifully executed, on black marble pedestal, by Rysbrack'. It again fetched 7 guineas and was bought by Forster ( unidentified - who also bought many other lots at the sale).

The bust of Gibbs reappeared in 1885 when it was presented to the church of St Martin's in the Field by the silver merchant, jeweller and art dealer William Bloore (d. 1902) of the Strand.

It was sold to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1988.

The bust of Alexander Pope was knocked down in the sale of 28 March 1783 lot 89 to Lord Vere the future 5th Duke of St Albans for £6 16s 6d. Its subsequent owner was the famous advocate William Garrow KC. PC. FRS. (1760 - 1840) - Garrow gave the bust to his friend Edward Lowth Badely (1803 - 68) a barrister and ecclesiastical lawyer who bequeathed to the Athenaeum Club in 1868, where it remained until 1985 when it was consigned to Christie's sale rooms - it was eventually sold by private treaty to The National Portrait Gallery.

Bruce Lampard

08 June 2020, 18:29

I have the handwritten will of a forebear of mine, Edward Lowth Badeley QC, dated 28 March 1868, (the day before his death). in it, Edward mentions "my marble bust of Pope, which was given to me by the Rt Honble (sic) Sir William Garrow, i give to the Athenaum club in Waterloo Place Pall Mall, to be placed in their library of drawing room" he also directs that "in the event of that club being dissolved, or not accepting it, i give the same bust to the society of Antiquaries of London".

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