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Laurence Sterne

4 of 16 portraits of Laurence Sterne

Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Laurence Sterne

by Joseph Nollekens
circa 1766
15 1/2 in. (394 mm) high
NPG 1891

Inscriptionback to top

Incised on the back shaft STERNE.

This portraitback to top

As a young man Nollekens was in Rome 1760-70. The bust would thus have been taken during the winter of 1765-66 when Sterne was in Italy. He is known to have been in Florence by 18 December [1] travelling thence to Naples and to Rome which he visited during 11-25 January and March to 5-17 April. [2] Judging from later works exhibited in 1770, [3] Nollekens' 'busto of the Rev Dr Stern' at the Free Society of Artists, 1767 (309), was probably a plaster rather than terracotta or marble. He gave a plaster cast in 1790 to the Negro poet Ignatius Sancho, [4] sometime butler to the Duke of Montague and a friend of Sterne, but it is not known if this is the one exhibited in 1767. Nollekens always regarded his portrait of Sterne as one of his best and evidently retained the terracotta which was bought at his posthumous sale, Christie's, 3-5 July 1823, by Agar Ellis. A marble in the same sale bought by Mrs (Russell) Palmer for £60.18s. [5] was purchased at her sale, Christie's, 23 March 1847, by Graves for £38.17s. Lot 266, according to Scharf's notes in the catalogue of the Francis Broderip sale, Christie's, 7 February 1872, 2nd day, was incised STERNE as in NPG 1891 (see Provenance) and was the same bust as that 'bt by Mrs Russell for £60 at Nollekens ...'. [6]
Sterne died before the sculptor's return to England and the only contemporary evidence of a marble produced in Rome is the not entirely reliable advertisement placed in the Public Advertiser, 12 February 1771, by Sterne's friend the printer Thomas Becket (1722?-1813) announcing busts of Sterne 'ready to deliver ... done from a Marble one which he sat to at Rome, executed by the famous Noliken'. Examples in 'plain Plaister' were offered for one guinea and six shillings more 'if done in Imitation of Marble, or bronzed'. [7] Marble versions include one at the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery acquired, 1924, through the Anderson Galleries, New York, formerly Taunton heirlooms sale, Quantock Lodge; [8] others were at Christie's, c.1928, from the Yarborough collection, said to be the bust taken in Rome; [9] at Skelton Castle descended from Sterne's friend John Hall-Stevenson to Mrs W. Ringrose-Wharton; at the Manchester exhibition 1857 (112) lent by the Rt Hon. H. Labouchère; at Christie's, 1 February 1923 (44), catalogued as Addison from the collection of Sir J. G. Thorold, Bart of Syston Park, Grantham and at Sotheby's c.1965, later with Robert Lee. An engraving by J. Caldwall after the portrait by Benjamin West shows the sitter's daughter Lydia (de Medalle) holding a laurel wreath over a bust of her father which is apparently based on Nollekens.

Footnotesback to top

1) Letters of Laurence Sterne, ed. L. P. Curtis, 1935, pp 265-66, citing letter from Sterne to Isaac Panchaud of Foley & Panchaud, Paris bankers.
2) Letters of Laurence Sterne, ed. L. P. Curtis, 1935, p 272 and notes of Prof. A. Cash.
3) 'A model - the portrait of a gentleman' (189), 'A marble busto - the portrait of a gentleman' (190), ‘Paris - from the antique; a model in terra cotta' (191).
4) J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times, ed. W. Whitten, 1920, I, pp 25-27.
5) Ibid, p 8.
6) Catalogue in NPG archives and letter from Mr Woods of Christie's, 3 February 1872.
7) Prof. A. Cash, correspondence 1973.
8) Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, correspondence 1973, NPG archives.
9) Dictionary of National Biography, XVIII, p 1103.

Physical descriptionback to top

Pupils incised, eyebrows faint and low over eyes, prominent nose, slightly receding chin, curly hair brushed forward half covering his ears and falling well down the nape of his neck; bare neck and shoulders.

Conservationback to top

Slight flaws or losses in the hair above his left temple, in his left eyebrow and cheek.

Provenanceback to top

Given, 1920, through the National Art Collections Fund by Lt-Col. Croft-Lyons by whom acquired, on Milner's recommendation, [1] from Amor of St James's Street; possibly the marble, similarly incised, at the Broderip sale 1872 (see above) and if so, from the artist's collection.

1) His MS note in NPG library copy of Sterne, A Study by W. Sichel.

Exhibitionsback to top

'The First Hundred Years of the Royal Academy 1769-1868', RA, 1951-52 (25).

Reproductionsback to top

Engraved by James Caldwell (F. O'Donoghue and Sir Henry M. Hake, Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits ... in the British Museum, 1908-25, 1, under Medalle) with Lydia Sterne for the 1775 edition of his Letters.


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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