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portrait bust

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Plaster portrait bust of Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773) by Louis-François Roubiliac, his head turned slightly to left and depicted in classical style with short hair and with his upper body unclothed.

  • Producer name

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 66.3 centimetres
    • Width: 52.6 centimetres (max.)
    • Depth: 26.4 centimetres
    • Weight: 11 kilograms
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

      • Inscription Content

  • Curator's comments

    The marble by Roubiliac is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.Dawson 1999
    Literature: E. Beresford Chancellor, The Lives of the British Sculptors, and those who have worked in England from the earliest days to Sir Francis Chantrey, London, 1911, pp. 123-4; K. A. Esdaile, 'Studies of the English sculptors from Pierce to Chantrey. XIII. Louis François Roubiliac (1695-1762) continued', Architect, 16 June 1922, p. 450; K. A. Esdaile, The Life and Works of Louis François Roubiliac, Oxford and London, 1928, pp. 103-4, 106-7, 177, 182, pl. XXIIIb; M. Whinney, English Sculpture 1720-1830, London, 1971, p. 86; G. Balderston, 'Roubiliac and Lord Chesterfield', Apollo, vol. CXXI, no. 277, March 1985, p. 189; P. Ayres, Classical Culture and the Idea of Rome in Eighteenth-century England, Cambridge, 1997, pl. 1 and p. 74.

    Exhibited: 'Eighteenth Century Portrait Busts', Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, London, 1959, no. 22; Museum of London, T. Murdoch (ed.), 'The Quiet Conquest, the Huguenots 1685-1985', May-October 1985, p. 213, no. 312.

    Displayed: 1817, over the bookcases in the Print Room (formerly in Mr Baber's department, note from J. T. Smith, 17 November 1817, P&D Archive, Trustees' Reports); 1847, probably still in the Print Room (BM Archive, Officers' Reports, Sir Henry Ellis, 3 June 1847); 1884, over the cases in the Glass and Ceramic Gallery (Guide, 1888, p. 18, called 'Stanhope', although this could be no. 79); 1922, 'in private rooms' (Esdaile, 1922, XIII, p. 451); c. 1960, British and Medieval Antiquities.

    Comparable examples: Paul Mellon Collection, Yale Centre for British Art, USA, inv. no. B 1977.14.26, plaster, 71.1 by 53.3 cm, on shaped plinth with coat of arms and motto, surrounded by the Order of the Garter.

    The Earl of Chesterfield was born in London and educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He made the Grand Tour and subsequently became Member of Parliament for St Germains, Cornwall from 1716 until he succeeded to the earldom in 1726. In 1730 he was made Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter, and married about a year later the illegitimate daughter of King George I. He was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in July 1745, after
    fulfilling a diplomatic mission in The Hague between January and late May that year, suggesting that sittings for the bust took place in London in the intervening period. After a difference of opinion with the Duke of Newcastle over foreign policy, in 1748 he resigned his post as Secretary of State for the Northern Department, to which he had been appointed in 1746, and left public life. He furnished his houses in South Audley Street, London and Blackheath in some style in the late 1740s and early 1750s but then retired from society in 1752 when he became deaf. He is best known for his letters to his illegitimate son, Philip Stanhope, who died in Dresden in 1768, and to his godson, also called Philip Stanhope.
    For a marble bust of Chesterfield by Joseph Wilton, see registration no. 1777,0620.1.

    For information about the sculptor, Louis-François Roubiliac, see registration no. 1762,0528,16.

    Chesterfield had many connections with the Huguenot community of which Roubiliac was a part. He was educated by M. Jounneau, a minister of the Huguenot church in Berwick Street, Soho and was a close friend of Dr Maty, who edited his letters and compiled his biography.(1) He was Grand Master of the Masonic Grand Lodge and so had contact with scholars and antiquarians such as Martin Folkes (see registration no. 1762,0528.12), who is likely to have known Roubiliac from meetings at Slaughter's Coffee House.(2) As Tessa Murdoch has pointed out,(3) the sitter may have employed the sculptor on some of the decorative sculpture for Chesterfield House, London.
    A marble bust of Chesterfield from life, 58 cm in height, which was sold on the London market(4) is dated 1745. Now in the National Portrait Gallery(5) it corresponds with the British Museum plaster; it belonged to George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, until 1918 when it was sold at Christie's. It is likely to have passed into the Carnarvon's possession via Lady Evelyn Stanhope, the sister and heiress of the 7th Earl of Chesterfield, who married the 4th Earl of Carnarvon in 1861.
    This bust is highly classicizing in style, an effect heightened by the complete lack of any drapery, although the incised pupils and turn of the head slightly to the left give the portrait a lifelike quality. Most of the artist's other portrait busts are of the same general form, but here the deep chest, which rests on a squared off support, enhances the sitter's serious and weighty air, although he was small in stature. Both this bust and Wilton's marble of 1757 (see registration no. 1777,0620.1) are essays in classicism. The sitter reveals his taste for antiquities in a letter to Dayrolles of 27 April 1750 (OS) published by Dr Maty(6) when he asks Dayrolles to act for him at a forthcoming sale: 'Count Obdam's sale, I suppose, draws near, at which, pray, buy me such bustoes and vases as you shall find are universally allowed to be both antique and fine, at such rates as you shall think reasonable; in the whole, you may go as far as two hundred pounds, if the objects are curious and worth it.' A further letter of 25 May(7) lists four lots and two other pieces in which he is particularly interested.

    The significance of the incised 15 has not yet been determined.

    This cream-coloured plaster, the surface of which was apparently once covered with a darker wash, may have been a version made by the sculptor for sale but still in his studio at his death. It is cast from the original mould. Alternatively, it may have been made by his assistant, Nicholas Read, after the sculptor's death in an attempt to keep his workshop going.(8) Two further plasters of Chesterfield and two terracottas were sold at Roubiliac's sale.(9) The present whereabouts of only one of these is known. A bronze cast of the bust is in the Victoria and Albert Museum;(10) another, signed and dated 1746, is in lin Castle, and a third was offered at Christie's in 1991.(11)
    It seems likely that the multiplicity of versions of this bust owe their existence to the sitter's vanity, although in a letter to Madame du Boccage of 14 June 1750 (OS)(12) he writes:
    'What an honour it would be for me, if my bust deserved the place you offer it! But how mortifying, should you be called upon to prove the qualifications of the new comer! Believe me, madam, let us both keep out of the scrape, and remain on the safe side. I will send you two busts, which not only deserve, but claim a place in your garden, in consequence of the reception they have met with in your closet, I mean Milton and Pope. There they will not be afraid of company, be it ever so good; besides they have already got their vouchers and their patents, countersigned by your own hand. I shall send them as soon as they are done.'

    He must have relented, for on 7 November 1751 (OS)(13) he wrote:
    'You talk to me, madam, of my bust; yes, make it speak as you have made the four others speak,(14) which I sent you, and it shall sail for Dieppe by the first fair wind. Upon such a recommendation, I should be sure of meeting with a gracious reception from those illustrious dead, except Pope, who unfortunately has been too well acquainted with me to be imposed upon; though perhaps as a friend he would not betray me . . .'.

    (1) M. Maty, The Miscellaneous Works of the Late Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, consisting of letters to his friends never before printed and various other articles to which are prefixed memoirs of his life to illustrate the civil, literary and political history of his time, 3 vols, Dublin, 1777.
    (2) D. Bindman and M. Baker, Roubiliac and the Eighteenth-century Monument: Sculpture as Theatre, New Haven and London, 1995, pp. 64-5.
    (3) T. Murdoch, 'Louis François Roubiliac and his Huguenot connections', Proceedings of the Huguenot Society, vol. XXIV, no. 1, 1983, pp. 26-45, p. 39. Malcolm Baker in discussion with the writer in February 1998 stated that this view is no longer current.
    (4) Christie's, European Sculpture and Works of Art, 3 April 1985, lot 70.
    (5) National Portrait Gallery, inv. 5829, see Illustrated Report and List of Acquisitions 1985-6, p. 12, illus. inside front cover.
    (6) Maty, Miscellaneous Works, III, p. 219.
    (7) Ibid., p. 221.
    (8) See registration nos 1762,0528.9-10 (Milton and Pope).
    (9) Bindman and Baker, 1995, p. 364, lot 9, plaster; lot 75, terracotta in second day's sale, 13 May 1762; lot 83, terracotta, 14 May 1762; lot 20, plaster, 15 May 1762.
    (10) Inv. no. A. 17-1959; see Whinney, 1971, pp. 86-8, illus.
    (11) Christie's, Important European Sculpture and Works of Art, 16 April 1991, lot 45. All three bronzes are discussed in Baker, 1996, p. 153; the bronze now in a private collection is illus. p. 15a, fig. 10. It is no doubt the same object as was sold at Sotheby's European Sculpture and Works of Art, 16 December 1998, lot 150.
    (12) Maty, Miscellaneous Works, III, Letter LXXXV.
    (13) Ibid., Letter XCIV.
    (14) We can infer from a letter from Chesterfield to Madame du Boccage of 20 May 1751 (OS) (Maty, Miscellaneous Works, Letter XCIII) that he sent busts of Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden and Pope in return for her present of letters of La Rochefoucault, Madame de Lafayette and Madame de Coulanges, although the word busts is not actually used.


  • Bibliography

    • Dawson 1999 17 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history


    1985 May-Oct, Museum of London, The Quiet Conquest: The Huguenots 1685-1985
    1959, London, Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, Eighteenth Century Portrait Busts, no. 22

  • Condition

    Left shoulder and back of base at right are damaged; some paint losses have been retouched; remains of grey surface coating are visible over ochre-coloured pigment. An old note (probably compiled by Hugh Tait) records that the bust was cleaned in the V&A 8.11.51 (A. Dawson, June 2013)

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Bequeathed by Dr Matthew Maty, 1762, who purchased it at Roubiliac's sale, either lot 9 in second day's sale, 13 May 1762, lot 18 in third day's sale, 14 May 1762, or lot 20 in fourth day's sale, 15 May 1762.

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number



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