Sir John Soane
- Extended catalogue entry
Regency Portraits Catalogue
Sir John Soane
by Sir Francis Leggatt Chantrey
18 5/8 in. x 25 3/8 in. (473 mm x 645 mm)
Inscriptionback to top
Profile to right inscribed: Sir John Soane RA
This portraitback to top
The bust now in the Soane Museum, originated with a letter from Chantrey to Soane dated 15 May 1827: 'My Dear Sir, Will you come to me on Thursday morning and bring your Head with you? Breakfast will be ready at 9 o'Clock, but if you do not appear at that time I will expect you at Eleven, unless I hear to the contrary. You may chuse Friday if it suits you better' (Arthur T. Bolton, The Portrait of Sir John Soane RA, 1927, p 453). It seems to have formed some sort of exchange for architectural work on the ante-room to Chantrey's sculpture gallery in Belgrave Square and was finished in April 1829: '... after repeated efforts, attended with various success, I have at last persuaded myself that my labours are brought to a successful termination, but whether the bust which I have made shall be considered like John Soane or Julius Caesar is a point that cannot be determined by either you or me ...' (Arthur T. Bolton, The Portrait of Sir John Soane RA, 1927, p 453 and see Alex Potts in Clyde Binfield's Sir Francis Chantrey: Sculptor to an Age, 1981, pp 64-7). It was exhibited RA 1830 (1241) and presented to Soane in October, incised: John Soane Esqr RA/Presented as a token of respect/by Francis Chantrey Sculptor/1830. The plaster model is Ashmolean Museum (634-122). Francis Chantrey’s Ledgers of Accounts record on page 22: 'Bust of John Soane Esq. 1829 March (blank) Oct 30 1830 Finished and presented to John Soane Esq as a mark of esteem by Francis Chantrey FC'. Although the drawing is inscribed Sir John Soane RA he was not actually knighted by William IV until 1831.
A mezzotint by Charles Turner was published 18 January 1830. Medals from the Chantrey profile were made by W. Wyon 1834 and W. Bain 1837.
Chantrey's technique and working practices have been clearly described and analysed by Professor Potts in the introduction to Sir Francis Chantrey 1781-1841 Sculptor of the Great, NPG exhibition catalogue, 1981. The sittings began with drawings, profile and full-face, made with a device which traced the outlines of the head on to a sheet of paper. It was called by Chantrey himself a 'camera lucida' and was adapted from a special instrument patented by his friend William Hyde Wollaston who described it in detail:
Having a short time since amused myself with attempts to sketch various interesting views, without an adequate knowledge of the art of drawing, my mind was naturally employed in facilitating the means of transferring to paper the apparent relative positions of the objects before me; and I am in hopes that the instrument, which I contrived for this purpose, may be acceptable even to those who have attained to greater proficiency in the art, on account of the many advantages it possesses over the Camera Obscura.
(W. H. Wollaston in Nicholson's Journal, XVII, June 1807, pp 1-5 and plate 1)
Although Chantrey's device was known as a camera lucida, judging from Wollaston's illustration and Sir Henry Russell's description quoted below it was a variation from the accepted form and certainly does not tally with examples of the instrument in the Science Museum. However for the sake of convenience Chantrey's name for it has been used throughout this Catalogue.
The drawings finished, clay models were made by studio assistants and completed by Chantrey himself, usually at several informal sessions beginning with breakfast and accompanied by friends to ensure that conversation would keep the sitter animated. The clay was then transferred to plaster casts (many of which were presented to the Ashmolean Museum by Lady Chantrey in 1842) and finally to the marble bust.
The actual process, in 1822, was described vividly by one of the sitters, Sir Henry Russell (see NPG 316a(102-3)):
On the day we were to begin he appointed me to breakfast with him ... The first day, he only made a rough sketch of the face, using an instrument with a tube, through which he looked, while, with a pencil fixed on one arm of it, he traced an outline of the full size on paper ... In the construction of this instrument, Sir Francis told me he had himself made considerable improvements.
(George Jones, Sir Francis Chantrey RA: Recollections of his Life, Practice and Opinions, 1859, pp 275, 292.)
The process was also described by John Dalton in 1834 (see NPG 316a(27-30)) and by James Dunlop in 1836, recounted by C. R. Leslie:
Mr Dunlop had been sitting to Chantrey, who fixed the back of his head in a wooden machine to keep him perfectly still, and then drew with a camera lucida the profile and front face of the size of life. He afterwards gave a little light and shade to the drawings, and said, "I shall not require you to sit still after this."
(C. R. Leslie, Autobiographical Recollections, 1860, p 152.)
Among the conversationalists Chantrey employed to keep his sitters animated was George Jones, librarian and keeper of the RA and one of Chantrey's intimate friends and his executor. Jones's widow gave the collection of camera lucida drawings to the NPG, offering them in a letter of July 1870:
I was desired by my late husband George Jones RA to offer for the acceptance of the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery - various drawings, taken with the assistance of the Camera Lucida, by the late Francis Chantrey RA - of celebrated persons & some members of the Royal Family. May I ask you to have the kindness to make this offer known in the proper quarter ... Gertrude Jones.
(MS letter in NPG archive).
The offer was accepted by the Trustees in February 1871. The collection consists of 202 drawings, on Whatman paper usually about 47 x 62 cm (18 ½ x 24 ½ in), some with simple outlines marked with guide crosses and lines, others worked up into finished portrait studies. Most are annotated with the sitters' names but about 40 have not been identified.
Referenceback to top
J. Holland, Memorials of Sir Francis Chantrey, 1851, reviewed in The Athenaeum, 1851, p 1039.
George Jones, Sir Francis Chantrey RA: Recollections of his Life, Practice and Opinions, 1859, copy annotated and presented by the author in the NPG library.
Alex Potts, Sir Francis Chantrey 1781-1841 Sculptor of the Great, catalogue of NPG exhibition 1981.
Sir Francis Chantrey’s Ledgers of Accounts 1809-23, British Library (MS. Eg. 1911).
Sir Francis Chantrey’s Ledgers of Accounts 1809-41, Royal Academy Library, to be published in a forthcoming Walpole Society volume.
Physical descriptionback to top
Profile to right and full-face, both marked lightly with guide crosses.
Provenanceback to top
Sir Francis Chantrey; his executor George Jones RA and given by his widow, Gertrude Jones, 1871.
This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Walker, Regency Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, 1985, 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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