- Museum number
Marble portrait bust of Charles Townley (1735-1805) by Christopher Hewetson (1737-c.1798), slightly to right, wearing a wig and a shirt with a ruffle below the collar under drapery which falls over his right shoulder, attached to an original polished marble socle; signed and dated.
- Production date
Height: 57.50 centimetres
Width: 34 centimetres (max.)
- Curator's comments
- Dawson 1999
Literature: J. Farington, 'The Diary of Joseph Farington', 18 vols, New Haven and London, 1978-84, VII, p. 2510; K. A. Esdaile, Christopher Hewetson and his monument to Dr. Baldwin in Trinity College, Dublin, 'Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland', LXXVII, 1947, p. 135; T. Hodgkinson, Christopher Hewetson: an Irish sculptor in Rome, 'Walpole Society', XXXIV, 1952-4, p. 42, pl. XV, B; B.de Breffny, Christopher Hewetson, 'Irish Arts Review', 3, 3, Autumn 1986, p. 59, no. 31 (bust listed but whereabouts unknown to the author); 'British Museum Magazine', Summer 1995, p. 21; 'National Art Collections Fund Review', 1995, p. 103, no. 4177.
Displayed: Wolfson Galleries of Classical Sculpture and Inscriptions, 1995.
Charles Townley was of an old Lancashire recusant family. He was educated abroad at the Roman Catholic school in Douai (present-day Belgium). As a young man he lived in Paris. In his twenties he divided his time between Towneley Hall, his estate near Burnley, Lancashire, which he inherited in 1758, and London. In 1767, on his first visit to Rome, he began to collect on a major scale the classical sculptures which were eventually purchased for the nation after his death at a cost of £20,000. They were housed in a new gallery at the British Museum, originally built for Egyptian antiquities and extended to house the Townley Collection, which was opened in 1808.(1) Townley was a Museum Trustee from 1791 to his death.
Christopher Hewetson was born into a Protestant landowning family in Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. After attending Kilkenny College, he is recorded as working with or for the sculptor John Van Nost the Younger (c. 1712-80) in the late 1750s on statues for the Rotunda Gardens, Dublin, before leaving for Italy around 1765. His earliest known work there is probably a bust of Viscountess Sudley executed between 1767 and 1769. He never returned to Ireland, relying on commissions for busts of eminent Italians, as well as visitors to Rome, especially British notables.(2) Hewetson has been called 'the greatest of all Irish sculptors'.(3)
The portrait, which together with one of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn is the earliest dated work by this sculptor, was made from life and was perhaps commissioned at the suggestion of Townley's brother, Edward Townley Standish.(4) It was not delivered until early 1770, when the dealer in antiquities and banker Thomas Jenkins, who had perhaps recommended the little-known sculptor to his friend the sitter, reported that it was to sail towards England forthwith, although further correspondence suggests that it was not despatched until late April or very early May. The 'Model and Mould' sent to England with the bust(5) have disappeared. It is interesting to note the entry for 6 February 1805 in Joseph Farington's Diary: "Nollekens I called on. He was modelling a Bust of the late Mr Townley [see registration no. OA.10272] . . . He shewed me a Bust of Him executed by Hewetson in Rome, 37 years ago, to me it appeared not like what he formerly was."(6) This suggests that Nollekens owned the model in 1805.
The sitter is portrayed in a naturalistic rather than a classicizing style. The half-turn of the head, the springy curls of the wig and the folds of the rather disordered shirt and jacket depict a man of fashion. The original cost of the bust, made of a carefully chosen piece of marble, which nonetheless exhibits several impurities in the neck, on the mouth and on the forehead, is not known.
The socle is made of statuary marble from Polvaccio, Torano basin (E. Dolci, 'Carrara Cave Antichi: Materiali Archeologici', Carrara, 1980, no. XII, p. 163).
(1) See B. F. Cook, 'The Townley Marbles', London, 1985 and M. Caygill, The Townley Collection of classical sculpture, in 'Treasures of the British Museum', London, 1985, pp. 68-73.
(2) For a portrait attributed to Stefano Tofanelli of Hewetson with his marble bust of Gavin Hamilton see A. Wilton and I. Bignamini (eds), 'Grand Tour: the lure of Italy in the eighteenth century', London, 1896, exh. cat. Tate Gallery, 1996-7, no. 161. Joanna Barnes in An unknown bust by Christopher Hewetson, 'Antologia di Belle Arti', n.s LII-LV, 1992, 'La scultura II: Studi in onore di Andrew Ciechanowiecki', pp. 166-9 discusses a bust of Franciszek Salzy Potocki, Hewetson's working methods and his circle.
(3) When a bust of Catherine, Viscountess Sudley was sold, Christie's, 11 December 1984, lot 19.
(4) Dawson is grateful to Dr Gerard Vaughan for allowing her access to his unpublished doctoral thesis 'The Collecting of Classical Antiquities in England in the 18th Century: a study of Charles Townley (1737-1805) and his circle', University of Oxford, 1988, in which this suggestion is made.
(5) Vaughan, 'Collecting', p. 75, quoting a letter dated 2 May 1770 from Jenkins to Townley, in the Townley archive now in the Central Archives, British Museum.
(6) Farington, 1978-84, VII, p. 2510.
- On display (G1/od/nr44)
- 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'
- two small abraded patches on right cheek, slight damage to lower front drapery, slight damage to socle
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- £80,000 from Central Reserve, £45,000 from National Art Collections Fund, £35,880 from British Museum Society.
In the family of the sitter until 1995, possibly at Towneley Hall, Lancashire or Park Street, Westminster in his lifetime; sold from the collection of the Rt Hon. M. H. Towneley, 3rd Lord O'Hagan, Christie's, 8 June 1939, lot 80; estate of Lady Mary Strachey, early 1950s; known to have been in London in the 1960s, purchased with the assistance of the National Art Collections Fund and the British Museum Society, 1995.
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number