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portrait bust

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Carrara marble portrait bust of Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773) by Joseph Wilton RA (1722-1803), head turned slightly to left and depicted in the classical style with short hair and upper torso unclothed, on original polished marble waisted socle on the lower front of which is attached a cast gilt lead alloy badge bearing Chesterfield's arms with the ribbon and motto of the Order of the Garter.


  • Producer name

  • Date

    • 1757
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 67 centimetres (Attached to 1.5cm x 17.5cm dowel)
    • Thickness: 45 centimetres
    • Thickness: 26 centimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

        left shoulder truncation
      • Inscription Language

      • Inscription Content

        I. WILTON:fecit:ad Vivum.1757
      • Inscription Translation

        Carved by J. Wilton from the life 1757
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

        front of socle
      • Inscription Content

  • Curator's comments

    Dawson 1999
    Literature: J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times: comprehending a life of that celebrated sculptor; and memoirs of several contemporary artists, from the time of Roubiliac, Hogarth, and Reynolds, to that of Fuseli, Flaxman, and Blake, 2 vols, London, 1828, II, p. 175; K. A. Esdaile, The Life and Works of Louis François Roubiliac, Oxford and London, 1928, p. 106; T. Hodgkinson, Joseph Wilton and Doctor Cocchi', Victoria and Albert Museum Bulletin, III, pt 2, April 1967, p. 77 and fig. 3; M. Whinney, Sculpture in Britain 1530-1830, Harmondsworth, 1964 , p. 138, pl. 108A; revised edn 1988, pp. 261-2, pl. 262; J. Kerslake, National Portrait Gallery, Early Georgian Portraits, London, 1977, p. 51 and pl. 140.

    Displayed: 17 November 1817, Trustees' Minutes (P&D Archive) 'The marble bust [sic] of Chesterfield and Tomkins are placed over the Chimney-pieces'; 1828, 'adorns the south-west chimney-piece of the Print room in the British Museum' (Smith, 1828, II, p. 175); 14 and 16 August 1828, list of articles to be delivered by Mr Smith to Mr Hawkins, on leaving the old Print Room (P&D Archive) 'Do. [marble bust] of Lord Chesterfield'; 3 June 1847, Officers' Reports, Sir Henry Ellis (BM Central Archive) 'in the Medal Room . . . one of the Earl of Chesterfield, an early work of Wilton (the precursor of Nollekins)'; 1928, 'till recently exhibited on the main staircase' (Esdaile, 1928, p. 106); 1959, British and Medieval Antiquities, 'on top of the book presses' (MLA departmental correspondence); 1989-94, on loan to Ranger's House, Blackheath, nr London; 1994, Gallery 46 'Europe 1400-1800' (shown in situ in Fox, 1995, p. 393, fig-49)

    Comparable Examples: Rosebery Collection, Dalmeny, Scotland(1)

    Provenance: Probably commissioned by the sitter, 1757; given to Sir Thomas Robinson Bt (?1700-77) by Chesterfield; bequeathed by Robinson, 1777.

    For information about Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, see registration no. 1762,0528.13.

    Robinson's will dated 26 September 1777 reads:
    'my fine Bust of the late Lord Chesterfield made by Wilton my Picture of his Lordship drawn by Ramsay and my Medal of that Nobleman the whole of which were given to me by his Lordship and which I give to the British Museum as a Testimony of my Regard for the Memory of an illustrious person with whom I have lived in intimacy for more than half a century.'
    The Ramsay portrait was in the British Museum until 1879, when it was transferred to the National Portrait Gallery,(2) where there is also another, earlier, portrait after William Hoare.(3) The medal has not been traced in the Department of Coins and Medals and may have been destroyed in the Second World War.(4)

    Joseph Wilton(5) was the son of an ornamental plasterer who had a large manufactory near Charing Cross, London. He trained first in Nivelles, Brabant, under Laurent Delvaux and then spent three years in Paris with Pigalle. In November 1750 he arrived in Rome, where he carved after the Antique and met the architect William Chambers. Wilton moved to Florence early in 1752, returning to London with Chambers in 1755. Soon after his return Wilton worked for the Duke of Richmond making copies and casts after the Antique and old master sculpture for his gallery in Whitehall Palace, intended as an academy for young artists. Wilton and the painter Giovanni Battista Cipriani (1720-74) were appointed keepers of the academy and taught boys over the age of twelve every Saturday. Created Sculptor to his Majesty in 1764, Wilton was one of the founder members of the Royal Academy in 1768 and became its Keeper in 1780. A portrait by J. F. Rigaud painted in 1782 shows him with Chambers and Reynolds, holding a hammer.(6) Wilton exhibited at the Academy from 1769 to 1783. In 1786 he sold up and retired. J. T. Smith states that Wilton's models and casts were sold on 8 and 9 June 1786.(7) In 1793 he was declared bankrupt even though his father had left him a considerable fortune in 1768. His lifestyle, however, seems to have been unaffected; he owned property in Snaresbrook, Hammersmith Mall and in town. He died in his apartment in Somerset House, which he occupied as Keeper of the Royal Academy and where he had earlier worked on the sculpture. He is buried at Wanstead, Essex.
    Allan Cunningham has left a lively description of Wilton: 'Tall, portly and personable, a perfect gentleman in manners, a warm friend and an agreeable companion. He went always dressed in the extremity of fashion, with a gold-headed cane and a bag-wig plentifully powdered.'(8) Fuseli, when viewing portraits of eminent men by George Dance around 1808, was said by J. T. Smith to have observed of that of Wilton, 'How simple are the thinking parts of this man's head, and how sumptuous the manducatory',(9) but this story may have been a scurrilous reflection of Smith's own opinion of Wilton. A portrait of Wilton instructing a student is known.(10)

    This bust, which was carved after the sitter had retired from public life, has been much admired. The exact circumstances of the commission are unknown, but the bust was presumably for Chesterfield House, London. According to J. T. Smith,(11) Wilton modelled the bust, but it was carved by Smith's father, Nathaniel Smith (who had earlier been employed in Roubiliac's studio). Whinney characterized it as a distinguished essay in the Roman manner and considered it 'probably the first bust made in England to follow the uncompromising pattern of many Roman busts of the Republican period'.(12) She drew attention to its detailed realism, mentioning the veins in the temples, wart on the right cheek, soft folds of skin around the mouth, all 'rendered with veracity and a total absence of generalization, giving the head a freshness and naturalism, an almost painterly quality' which was far from the classical ideal, and which she found fairly closely paralleled in some of the rococo busts of Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne. The sculptor has without doubt achieved an extraordinary synthesis between the idea of nobility and a realistic depiction of the sitter, shown without his wig.(13) His strong features have been further emphasized by the way his hair falls low onto his face.
    The bust of Dr Cocchi by Wilton in the Victoria and Albert Museum(14) is the only other recorded bust by this artist with neither drapery in the Roman manner nor wig. The bones and muscles of both sitters are clearly discernible, bearing witness to the artist's study of human anatomy. Both are carefully finished at the back with regular, and rather pleasing, marks left by the claw chisel. Each bust is separately fixed to a rather similar marble socle to which a badge is attached at the front. In fact this type of waisted socle, complete with the sitter's coat-of-arms, motto and garter, was much favoured by Chesterfield and used for busts of him by Roubiliac.(15)

    The marble has isolated blue flecks, brown veins in a diagonal pattern and a golden tone. It may be of Calacata 'cremo' type (E.Dolci, Carrara Cave Antichi: Materiali Archeologici, Carrara, 1980, no. VIII, p. 149).

    (1) Kerslake, 1977, p. 71.
    (2) Signed and dated 1765, Kerslake, 1977, no. 533.
    (3) Ibid., no. 158.
    (4) Luke Syson of the Dept of Coins and Medals kindly informed Dawson that two medallic portraits of Chesterfield were bought from Edward Hawkins. One was by Jacques Antoine Dassier, 1743, the other by James Kirk after I. Gosset, commemorating the sitter's death in 1773.
    (5) There is no biography of Wilton. Much information has been taken from Joan Coutu, 'William Chambers and Joseph Wilton', in J. Harris and M. Snodin (eds), Sir William Chambers, Architect to George III, Yale and London, 1996, exh. 1996-7 London and Stockholm, pp. 175-85. There is useful information in T. Hodgkinson, Joseph Wilton and Doctor Cocchi', Victoria and Albert Museum Bulletin, III, pt 2, April 1967, pp. 73-80.
    (6) National Portrait Gallery, inv. 987; Coutu, 'William Chambers', col. illus. fig. 270, p. 183.
    (7) Smith, 1828, II, p. 184.
    (8) A. Cunningham, Lives of the Painters, London, 1830, III, p. 80.
    (9) J. T. Smith, A Book for a Rainy Day: or recollections of the events of the last sixty-six years, London, 1845, p. 187.
    (10) J. Sunderland, John Hamilton Mortimer 1740-1779', Walpole Society, LII, 1986, pp. 131-2, reference quoted by Baker, 1996, p. 151.
    (11) Smith, 1828, II, p. 175. The whereabouts of the model is unknown.
    (12) Whinney, 1988, pp. 261-2.
    (13) Dr Susan Walker, in discussion with the writer, stressed the heroic effect achieved by Wilton when carving this bust.
    (14) V& A Reg. no. A9-1968. See Hodgkinson, Joseph Wilton'.
    (15) Marble sold at Christie's, 3 April 1985, lot 70; bronze in the same rooms, 16 April 1991, lot 45. See M. Baker, 'The production and viewing of bronze sculpture in eighteenth-century England', Antologia di Belle Arti, 52-55, 1996, p. 153 for a list of Roubiliac's portrait busts of Chesterfield, including a bronze in a private collection, p. 152, fig. 10.

    See 1857,0613.994 S,7.17 and 1891,0414.83 for engravings after the untraced medal, owned by Sir Thomas Robinson and bequethed by him to the British Museum, as noted above.


  • Bibliography

    • Dawson 1999 18 and col. pl. 10 bibliographic details
    • Wilson 2004 p. 12 and p. 14, fig. 22 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history

    2012 26 May-2 Sep, Bath, Holburne Museum of Art, Presence: the art of the sculpted portrait.
    2008 28 Jan-15 Jun, London, Tate Britain, Return of Gods; Neoclassical sculpture in Britain
    1989-1995, London, Blackheath, English Heritage, Ranger's House, Lord Chesterfield (LT Loan)
    1959, London, Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, Eighteenth Century Portrait Busts, no. 39
    1956-1957, London, Royal Academy, British Portraits, no. 331

  • Condition

    Damage to lower edge of polished marble support, finger restored on left hand.

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


COMPASS Title: Marble portrait bust of Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, by Joseph Wilton


COMPASS Title: Marble portrait bust of Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, by Joseph Wilton

Image description



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