- Museum number
Ivory portrait bust of Sir Isaac Newton FRS (1642-1727) carved by David Le Marchand (1674-1726), full face, wearing a robe over an open shirt with two buttons at the collar, signed and dated.
- Production date
Diameter: 14 centimetres (circa)
Height: 24.80 centimetres
Width: 15.10 centimetres (max.)
- Curator's comments
- Dawson 1999
Literature: L. Dussieux, Les artistes français à l'étranger, Paris and Lyon, 1876, p. 273; A. Maze-Sencier, Le livre des collectionneurs, Paris, 1885, p. 63g; E. Lami, Dictionnaire des sculpteurs de l'école française sous le règne de Louis XIV, Paris, 1906, p. 317; O. M. Dalton, Catalogue of Ivory Carvings of the Christian Era in the British Museum, London, 1909, no. 455, pl. cviii; Vertue Note Books, vol. II, Walpole Society, XX, 1931-2, p. 69; J. Kerslake, 'Sculptor and Patron? Two portraits by Highmore', Apollo, XCV, January 1972, p. 26, figs 3, 4, 5; R. S. Westfall, Never at Rest: a biography of Isaac Newton, Cambridge, 1980, pp. 752, 854; C. Avery, 'David Le Marchand: Huguenot ivory carver (1674-1726)', Proceedings of the Huguenot Society, London, vol. XXIV, no. 2, 1984, p. 114, pl. xvii(c); C. Avery, 'Missing, presumed lost: some ivory carvings by David Le Marchand', Country Life, 6 June 1985, p. 1563, pl. 3; D. Gjertsen, The Newton Handbook, London, 1986, p. 444, 'Busts', no. 2; Neil McGregor, 'Choice', British Museum Magazine, no. 20, Winter 1994, p. 32; C. Avery, David Le Marchand 1674-1726: 'an ingenious man for carving in ivory', London, 1996, no. 68, p. 91 (illus. in colour on back cover).
Exhibited: 1996-7, Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland; London, British Museum; Leeds, City Art Gallery, (Avery, David Le Marchand, no. 68 and David Le Marchand 'An Ingenious Man for Carving in Ivory', 1674-1726, exhibition handlist compiled by A. Dawson, publ. by Trustees of the British Museum, no. 93).
Displayed: c.1973, 'Renaissance Corridor'; 1994, Gallery 46, 'Europe 1400-1800'
Comparable examples: Melbourne, Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, signed and dated 1714, inv. 4118.3; Toronto, Canada, Lord Thomson of Fleet Collection, three busts, one perhaps by Le Marchand, two after Le Marchand.
Sir Isaac Newton was born at Woolsthorpe and attended Grantham Grammar School. He matriculated Bachelor of Arts from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1664, where he became a Fellow in 1667. Even before this he had discovered the binomial theorem, differential calculus, integral calculus and conceived the idea of universal gravitation. His Optics was published in 1704, Principia in 1686-7. He was Member of Parliament for Cambridge University in 1689 and 1701-2, was appointed Warden and then Master of the Mint in 1696 and 1699 respectively, and elected President of the Royal Society in 1705 and annually re-elected for twenty-five years, when he was succeeded by Sir Hans Sloane (registration no. 1756,0619.1). He was knighted by Queen Anne in 1705. His body lay in state in the Jerusalem chamber, Westminster Abbey, and was buried in the Abbey on 28 March 1727.
An oil portrait of Newton signed by Sir Godfrey Kneller and dated 1702 is in the National Portrait Gallery, which also houses another of the scientist seated at a table; attributed to John Vanderbank, and dating from about 1726, this was transferred from the British Museum in 1879.(1)
David Le Marchand was born in Dieppe. His family had produced painters, and probably also ivory carvers as the port was known for this craft. A Protestant, he appears to have left France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and is first recorded in Edinburgh in 1696. In that year he was given permission to open a shop there and his earliest portrait, of a member of the Cromartie family, was carved in the same year. By 1706 he was certainly in London, where he carved portraits of Queen Anne and George I, members of the Whig aristocracy, wealthy Huguenots and leading intellectuals of the early years of the eighteenth century. Although clearly successful until a few years before his death, he died in poverty six weeks after entering the French Hospital, London, at the expense of the charity.
The bust was carved from life from a single elephant tusk in 1718, and is one of Le Marchand's most striking and famous works. The ivory, taken from the broader lower zone of an exceptionally large tusk, is particularly pleasing in colour. The work appears to be the bust shown in a painting of the carver by Joseph Highmore dating from around 1723.(2) This bust and other ivory portraits of Newton by the same artist are fully discussed by Charles Avery,(3) who comments that it was probably commissioned by the Rapers, either by Matthew Raper, the donor's father, or by Moses, his uncle. Both men were merchants with strong connections to the Bank of England. Alternatively, the Museum bust may be the one commissioned by Newton, which after his death was recorded as having cost him one hundred guineas. The entry in one of George Vertue's note books records 'a head of Sr. Isaac Newton, carvd. in Ivory, pretty large, bald head - by. Le Marchand. 1718', which Vertue evidently saw not long after it was done.(4)
An unsigned bronze after this ivory but differing from it in the inclination of the head and in the rendering of the clothes, was on the English market in 1997. Apparently of early eighteenth-century date, its precise relationship with the Museum ivory is difficult to determine.(5). A watercolour drawing of the bust from around 1828 by J.T. Smith, the Keeper of Prints and Drawings, was presented to the Museum in 2018 (2018,7031.1; PDB4847).
(1) K. K. Yung, National Portrait Gallery, Complete Illustrated Catalogue 1856-1979, London, 1981, nos 2881, 558.
(2) National Portrait Gallery, London, no. 6142.C.
(3) Avery, David le Marchand 1674-1726: 'an ingenious man for carving in ivory', London, 1996, nos 47, 68, 69b, 69d.
(4) See Literature. The Museum Newton is not 'bald', but the description means 'without wig', in contrast to other Le Marchand ivory portraits of this sitter.
(5) Not seen by the writer, but described and illustrated in Manuscripts, Annotated Books, Literary and Historical Portraits, Artefacts and Works of Art, Roy Davids Ltd, n.d. , no. 105, p. 83, H. 9 ¾ in (now in a private collection).
Information supplementary to Dawson 1999:
For the bust of Newton in the National Gallery of Victoria, see https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/21523/ and http://english18thcentuiryportrait sculpture.blogspot.co.uk/2016/2 (accessed 2 April 2018), with the following provenance: Lord Halifax (sold Cocks, Covent Garden 1739); 2nd Earl of Orford (1689-1741), Wimpole Hall, Cambridge; James West (sale Langfords London, 6 March 1773, lot 19); Countess of Gosford 1930s, bought from dealers Alfred Spero; bequeathed to National Gallery of Victoria by Howard Spensley in 1939. (J. Rudoe)
- On display (G46/dc12)
- Exhibition history
2012 26 May-2 Sep, Bath, Holburne Museum of Art, Presence: the art of the sculpted portrait.
1996-1997 2 Oct-5 Jan, Leeds, City Art Gallery, David le Marchand 1674-1726 An Ingenious Man for carving in Ivory
1996 23 May-15 Sep, London, British Museum, David le Marchand 1674-1726 An Ingenious Man for carving in Ivory
1996 7 Mar-6 May, Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, David le Marchand 1674-1726 An Ingenious Man for carving in Ivory
- Crack on top of head.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Given 29 June 1765
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number