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Louis François Roubiliac

3 of 7 portraits by Joseph Wilton

Louis François Roubiliac, by Joseph Wilton, circa 1761 -NPG 2145 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Louis François Roubiliac

attributed to Joseph Wilton
circa 1761
25 1/2 in. (648 mm) high
NPG 2145

This portraitback to top

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.

Footnotesback to top

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) K. A. Esdaile, The Life and Works of Louis François Roubiliac, 1928, p 192.
3) Ibid, p 191.
4) Nollekens and His Times ... J. T. Smith, ed. W. Whitten, 1920, II, p 37; summary in K. A. Esdaile, The Life and Works of Louis François Roubiliac, 1928, 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) K. A. Esdaile, The Life and Works of Louis François Roubiliac, 1928, p 221.

Physical descriptionback to top

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.

Conservationback to top

Slight cracks at the back of the shoulder and side of the neck, left.

Provenanceback to top

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, [1] Sotheby's, 3 December 1926, bought Shilliter.

1) Correspondence in 1968, NPG archives, with his descendant Anthony Lousada for whom a bronze of the bust was then made.


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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