- Museum number
Plaster portrait bust of Alexander Pope (1688-1744) by Louis-François Roubiliac (1702-1766), head turned half left, , wearing a robe in the classical style which leaves his neck bare, attached to a waisted rectangular socle.
Height: 62 centimetres
Weight: 7.50 kilograms
Width: 42 centimetres (max.)
Depth: 21.30 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Pope sat to Roubiliac in 1738, aged fifty.
There are various marbles, including one dated 1738 and inscribed 'ad vivum' in Temple Newsam House, Leeds and others including one in the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut (see Dawson 1999 for a list).
The status of this plaster is not entirely certain, but it is probably a cast taken from the original mould in the artist's workshop after his death by his assistant Nicholas Read.
An old file note recorded that Lady Powsy had the original terracotta c. 1740/1
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, pp. 448-51., p. 448; K. A. Esdaile, 'The Life and Works of Louis François Roubiliac', Oxford and London, 1928, pp. 47-9, 103-5, l85; W. K. Wimsatt, 'The Portraits of Alexander Pope', New Haven and London, 1965, no. 57.2, pp. 233-4; W. K. Wimsatt, An image of Pope, in F. W. Hilles and H. Bloom (eds), 'From Sensibility to Romanticism: essays presented to Frederick A. Pottle', New York, 1965, p. 56; W.K. Wimsatt, Portraits of Alexander Pope, 'The Twelfth Wedgwood International Seminar', May 1967, held at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, p. 104, fig. 8(b); M. Whinney, 'English Sculpture 1720-1830', London, 1971, no. 21, p. 80; J. Kerslake, 'National Portrait Gallery, Early Georgian Portraits', London, 1977, p. 218; M. R. Brownell, 'Alexander Pope and the Arts of Georgian England', Oxford, 1978, p. 331; 'The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, The University of Birmingham, Handbook', Birmingham 1993, p. 114.
Exhibited: 1961, National Portrait Gallery, London, Portraits of Alexander Pope (Shown with five other busts of Pope when assembled for this exhibition in ibid., p. 249, and Wimsatt, 1967 (see Literature in Curatorial Comment), p. 104, fig. 8.); 1988, British Library, Alexander Pope 300, listed in MJJ, 'Alexander Pope (1688-1744): images of the poet', exhibition leaflet, p. 5.
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); 1888, over the cases in the Glass and Ceramic Gallery (Guide, 1888, p. 18); 1922, 'in private rooms' (Esdaile, 1922, XIII, p. 451); c.1960, British and Medieval Antiquities (MLA Dept slip catalogue).
Alexander Pope was born in Lombard Street, London on 21 May 1688, the son of a Roman Catholic linen draper. In his early youth he suffered from what was almost certainly Pott's disease, a tubercular infection of the bone, which inhibited his growth (he was only four feet six inches in height) and left his body much deformed, although his features were fine. He suffered constant pain(1) throughout his life, but became the leading poet of the Augustan Age.
He translated the 'Iliad', 1715-20, and other works of Homer and Horace. His 'Essay on Criticism', 1711, 'Essay on Man', 1733-4, his anti-heroic romance 'The Rape of the Lock', 1712, and his satire 'The Dunciad', 1728 (revised version 1743), earned him lasting fame as one of the greatest of British poets. Amongst his many friends were the writers Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Jonathan Swift, John Gay, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the politician Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, who headed a group largely hostile to Sir Robert Walpole's administration. Matthew Maty's life of Pope was published in 1760.(2)
For Louis-François Roubiliac, see registration no. 1762,0528.16.
Pope, who had probably been portrayed by early 1729 by Rysbrack,(3) and may have visited this sculptor in summer 1725,(4) sat to Roubiliac in 1738, aged fifty.(5) A marble inscribed at the back A. Pope AE. 50 L. F. Roubiliac. Sc. it. ad vivum. 1738. is at Temple Newsam House, Leeds.(6) There are other later marbles: one dated 1740 at Milton, Earl Fitzwilliam Collection, another of 1741 at the Shipley Gallery, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear,(7) and a second signed and dated 1741 formerly in the possession of the Earl of Rosebery at Dalmeny, now at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, USA.(8) These busts, and the Museum plaster, were gathered together by the National Portrait Gallery, London, in 1961 and a photograph of them survives.(9)
An undated full head and shoulders terracotta now belonging to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham,(10) which corresponds with this plaster, is the model from which all the marbles are made. Sainte-Croix records(11) that the original clay or model for the marble belonged to Rogers (the banker-poet Samuel Rogers, 1763-1855) in February 1834, and was recorded in the seventh volume of the 'Memoirs, Journal and Correspondence of Thomas Moore'(12) published in London, 1856, p. 25. The terracotta belonged to Mr A. Hallam Murray in 1928 and is illustrated by Mrs Esdaile.(13) It was later in the collection of Mrs M. Copner, Elton Hall, Peterborough and was acquired by the Barber Institute in 1970.(14)
Roubiliac's portrait of Pope is one of his finest. It is, like others by this artist, both classicizing and idealizing, whilst being at the same time a strong likeness. George Vertue commented in 1741: "Mr. Rubbilac Sculptor of Marble - besides several works in Marble - moddles in Clay, had Modelld from the Life several Busts or portraits extreamly like Mr. Pope more like than any other Sculptor has done I think . . ."(15) Whinney remarked on "the superb intellectual dignity of the head with its lofty brow and mobile, oversensitive mouth". Its pathos, she considered, was outside Rysbrack's range.(16)
This plaster is notably smaller than other heads by Roubiliac in the collection, in keeping with the sitter's small frame. Its pinkish surface, which is covered with a lead white finish, is particularly thin, and exhibits a cast seam at the back of the head. As no other seam is visible, this one may be from the 'plug' in a piece mould.(17) The outline of the features is rather softer and more blurred than would be expected on a working plaster made by the artist using a waste mould in the course of creating a marble.(18) The bust is most likely, as Wimsatt believed,(19) to be a cast taken from the original mould in the sculptor's workshop after his death by his assistant, Nicholas Read, for sale to "Any persons who are related to the said gentlemen, or holding them in esteem". They were to be supplied "considerably cheaper than their usual price" before the moulds were disposed of by public auction. Moulds in plaster for the bust of Pope were lots 42 and 48 on the first day of Roubiliac's sale, 12 May 1762.
A bronze relief depicting Pope almost full face in a powerful image is in the Paul Mellon Collection, Yale Center for British Art.(20) Josiah Wedgwood's jasper profile portrait medallion to left, issued by 1773, is based on Roubiliac's bust.(21)
Pope apparently visited Roubiliac's studio in St Martin's Lane on more than one occasion, writing to Ralph Allen concerning statuary for the library at Prior Park, near Bath, in July 1741, "I went yesterday to the Sculptor's & saw the Heads, that of Milton is near finished, & the other doing. I shall take what care I can of them."(22) Four busts were ordered, including Sir Walter Raleigh, at a cost of £20 each.
There are numerous portraits from life of Pope.(23) A lead bust attributed to Henry Cheere was on the London market in 1987.(24) As Malcolm Baker has pointed out, reduced variants were made in plaster,(25) bronze(26) and earthenware.(27)
(1) His bodily afflictions are eloquently described in 'Famous People and their Illnesses', booklet published by Roche Products Ltd, London, n.d. (c.1960).
(2) M. Maty, 'Vita di Alessandro Pope', Berne, 1760.
(3) A marble of Pope by Rysbrack dated 1730 was sold at Christie's, European Sculpture and Works of Art, 13 December 1985, lot 210.
(4) Kerslake, 1977, p. 221. The National Portrait Gallery acquired a marble of Pope by Rysbrack from the Athenaeum Club in 1985.
(5) Roubiliac's portraits of Pope have been discussed and listed by Wimsatt, 1965, pp. 223-66, together with busts close to the ones created by the sculptor, and earthenware and stone versions.
(6) Exhibited at Kenwood, London, "Eighteenth Century Portrait Busts", June-September 1959, no. 21, H. 36.8 cm.
(7) Exhibited 1985, London Museum, "The Quiet Conquest, The Huguenots 1685-1985", Tessa Murdoch (ed.), 1985, no. 206.
(8) Inv. no. B 1993.27. The bust once belonged to Lord Bolingbroke (1678-1751) and later to Sir Robert Peel; sold Sotheby's, 5 July 1990, lot 57, illus. Whinney, 1988, fig. 139 and see Kerslake, 1977, p. 218.
(9) See n. 2.
(10) Illus. M. Mack, 'Alexander Pope: a life', New York and London, 1985, p. 661, fig. 77, and see 'Barber Institute ... Handbook', 1993, p. 114.
(11) Sainte-Croix, 1882, p. 107.
(12) Lord John Russell (ed.), 'Memoirs, Journal and Correspondence of Thomas Moore', VII, London, 1856, p.25, 7 February 1834, "(Peel) ... Took me into another room [at his home], to show me what he said I ought to see, the original bust of Pope, by Roubilliac, which was done for Lord Bolingbroke. Told him that Rogers had a very fine cast of it; (which I find since is a mistake, as Rogers's is the original clay or model from which this bust was made, and is remarkable for the fine lines and markings with which it abounds, and which were afterwards softened down or omitted in the marble)."
(13) Esdaile, 1928, pl. VIII a, b.
(14) M. Whinney, 'Sculpture in Britain 1530-1830', rev. ed. John Physick, 1988, p. 201, fig. 138; sold Sotheby's 19 June 1970, lot 47.
(15) Vertue Note Books, vol. III, p. 105, quoted in Kerslake, 1977, p. 217.
(16) Whinney, 1988, p. 203.
(17) Dawson thanks Nicholas Penny for this suggestion.
(18) For a discussion and description of the making process, see D. Bindman and M. Baker, 'Roubiliac and the Eighteenth-century Monument: Sculpture as Theatre', New Haven and London, 1995, chapter 16.
(19) Wimsatt, 'Portraits', 1965, p. 233.
(20) Inv. no. B 1977.14.24, 25.1 x 20.25 cm. For a discussion of these medallions see J. V. G Mallet, Some portrait medallions by Roubiliac, 'Burlington Magazine', vol. CIV, no. 709, April 1962, pp. 153-8; another plaque of Pope is illus. in Mallet, fig. 28. The bronze at Yale is also discussed by M. Baker, The production and viewing of bronze sculpture in eighteenth-century England, 'Antologia di Belle Arti', 52-55, 1996, p. 150, illus. fig. 7.
(21) R. Reilly, 'Wedgwood: the portrait medallions', London, 1973, pp. 281-2.
(22) Quoted in M. R. Brownell, 'Alexander Pope and the Arts of Georgian England', Oxford, 1978, p. 334; see also pp. 354, 360.
(23) Kerslake, 1977, pp. 212-22.
(24) Sotheby's, 10 December 1987, lot 194. The bust was more probably made by John Cheere.
(25) M. Snodin (ed.), 'Rococo Art and Design in Hogarth's England', exh. cat., Victoria and Albert Museum, London, May-September 1984, S29.
(26) Ibid., S45.
(27) One in enamelled earthenware is illus. in Wimsatt, 'Portraits', 1965, opp. p. 262 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2014 18 Jun-26 Oct, Aylesbury, Waddesdon Manor, Fame and Friendship: Pope, Roubliac and the Eighteenth Century Portrait Bust
2014 20 Feb-19 May, USA, New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, Fame and Friendship: Pope, Roubilian and the Eighteenth Century Portrait Bust
1988, London, British Library, Alexander Pope 300
1961, London, National Portrait Gallery, Portraits of Alexander Pope
- The hair has been painted and partly stripped; minor damage to edges of shoulder at each side and to plinth; cleaned in Victoria and Albert Museum, November 1951; socle restored. (W. K. Wimsatt, 'The Portraits of Alexander Pope', New Haven and London, 1965, p. 234, illus. before cleaning.)
An old file note records that the bust was cleaned in the Victoria and Albert Museum on 8 November 1951.
A document from the BM Research Laboratory (was once kept in Document File, but should now be on the object file) dated 30 November 1960 states that the bust is definitely plaster.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Presented by Dr Matthew Maty, 1762, who purchased it at Roubiliac's sale, either lot 9, first day's sale, 12 May 1762, or lot 3 or lot 14, second day's sale, 13 May 1762, or lot 2, third day's sale, 14 May 1762.
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number