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George Frideric Handel

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Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

George Frideric Handel

by Unknown artist
circa 1755-1780
17 1/4 in. (438 mm) high
NPG 878

This portraitback to top

The socle has a mark bottom centre, probably to show the front, and may not be coeval with the bust. [Editorial note, 2013: see the printed edition of this catalogue for a reproduction of the mark.]
NPG 878 is not closely related to the marble bust at Windsor, [1] incised and dated 1739, by Roubiliac, the only major contemporary sculptor known to have portrayed the sitter. Tentatively equating it with a terracotta in the Roubiliac sale of 1762, Mrs Esdaile suggested it was perhaps a study for the Windsor marble. [2] This reading was possibly strengthened by confusion over the provenance. The terracotta of the Windsor type is now known to be in the Foundling Hospital. [3] Despite attribution in early Gallery catalogues and certain superficial resemblances in, for example, the cap and tassel and the arrangement of the collar in both the Windsor bust and ours, comparison with Roubiliac's half life-size terracotta of Ligonier (q.v. NPG 2013) clearly confirms that NPG 878 is in reality another type by another hand. This view is strengthened by confrontation with the near-identical recently discovered bronze in the Fitzwilliam Museum. [4] Neither is dated, nor has the date of publication been ascertained for a somewhat similar loose engraving from the Universal Magazine (F. O'Donoghue and Sir Henry M. Hake, Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits ... in the British Museum, 1908-25, 34). Both busts could be early, or even contemporary with the sitter; and it is tempting to associate them with an as yet unidentified edition of thirty casts advertised for sale by an F. Bull as early as 1758. [5]

Footnotesback to top

1) Possibly given to George III by the younger J. C. Smith. In the early 19th century there were evidently three busts of Handel in the Royal collection. A second, bare-headed marble now there appears to derive from Roubiliac, but is not known to be the bust ordered by the Prince Regent from the younger John Bacon in 1806: 'George III, Collector and Patron', Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 1974-75 (48).
2) K. A. Esdaile, The Life and Works of Louis François Roubiliac, 1928, pp 51-52, pl.x(a); p 183, C75, D53; p 226: third day of sale, 14 May, 'Busts in Terra Cotta ... Lot 75 Mr. Handell'.
3) J. F. Kerslake, 'Roubiliac's "Handel" a terra-cotta restored', Burlington Magazine, CVIII, 1966, p 475, pls 46, 47.
4) Provenance unknown. The busts were examined side by side, December 1976, through the courtesy of Mr Charles Avery and Mr Anthony Radcliffe who kindly discussed the whole subject with me.
5) O. E. Deutsch, Handel: a documentary biography, 1955, p 798.

Physical descriptionback to top

Bushy eyebrows, protruding lower lip; tasselled cap slightly tilted over his right ear, open shirt and coat, top button unfastened, cloak or drapery over the shoulders.

Conservationback to top

Passages in plaster in the back of the shoulders and signs of white (paint or plaster?) in the more inaccessible folds, particularly under the cap.

Provenanceback to top

Given, 1891, by W. H. Whithall who had received it some forty years previously (c.1852) from Richard Clark (1780-1856), senior vicar choral of Westminster Abbey and a pupil of the bass singer James Bartleman (1769-1821). The bust, as also stated by Whithall in 1892, had been given to Clark by the conductor Sir George Smart (1776-1867) and was believed to have been purchased at either the Bartleman sale or that of Dr Kitchener [sic], an amateur musician who died 26 February 1827, aged about 50; [1] there is no record of it, however, in the two Kitchiner sales of 1809 and 1838 [2] or in that of Bartleman, White's, 20 February 1822, and days following; Bartleman was the owner both of the Handel terracotta which later went to the Foundling Hospital, [3] offered for sale, 1824, by H. Rodd of 9 Great Newport Street, at £35, [4] and of the Wolfgang portrait bought at Charles Burney's sale, White's, 8 August 1814, lot 1029 (see All Known Portraits).

1) A. Hyatt King, p 38.
2) A. Hyatt King, verbal.
3) Correspondence, NPG archives.
4) Information, T. W. I. Hodgkinson.


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

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