Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Lead Bust of a "Roman General" at the Huntington Library

 Lead Bust of a "Roman General"
Possibly Lysimachus, King of Thrace.
Huntington Library

Attributed to John Cheere.

Photography © 2015 Fredrik Nilsen.

Courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108 626.405.2100

Lead Bust of a Roman General, ca. 1750, attributed to John Cheere.
22.4 x 14.5 in. (57 x 37 cm.).

This previously unrecognized 18th-century British bust reproduces a famous ancient work now in the Museo Archeologico, Naples, called the Generale Romano (Roman general), a 2nd-century A.D. marble after a Hellenistic original. The ancient version of the Generale Romano was a regular stop in the second half of the 18th century among Europeans traveling on the Grand Tour (a custom among aristocratic young men of traveling to visit key cultural sites), and it captured the imagination of sculptors looking for exemplars to copy.

“Comparing this copy of the Generale Romano to other copies after the ancient marble bust is a fascinating exercise,” said Catherine Hess, chief curator of European art at The Huntington. “Typically, copies replicated the original with great fidelity, but the artist of our bust has stripped the subject of his cloak, rounded off the bottom of the work, and tipped the head up and away from the viewer. The result is an elegantly theatrical presentation. The expressive pose takes on a gutsy muscularity—all sinew, tendon, and bone.” 

Experts examined the work before it went to market (?) and believe that all evidence points to John Cheere as the bust’s sculptor. Cheere’s business in London thrived for 50 years, and in the 1740s and 1750s dominated the market for high-quality lead figures. Lead, a less expensive material than bronze, was commonly used for garden statuary. Cheere’s stock of lead subjects included other copies after famous antiquities such as the Borghese Gladiator and the Diana of Versailles. In addition to his regular production, he created commissioned pieces for special patrons. The Huntington’s new Roman General is likely one of those special commissions, and might have been for display in an aristocratic garden or architectural niche.

“The originality of its conception, not to mention the vigorous handling of the medium, shows the artist at the height of his talents,” said Hess.

If this bust was created by Cheere and given that he was certainly the most important and prolific manufacturer of lead sculpture in the mid 18th century this is distinctly possible, then it must be seen as one of his masterpieces. There is a subtlety and sensitivity to it missing in the other versions of this bust particularly the plaster copies.

To my eye there appears to be a similarity to the marble bust of Lord Chesterfield in the National Portrait Gallery, the plaster bust of Chesterfield in the British Museum, and bronze bust of  Chesterfield  purchased in 2010 by the Louvre all by Roubiliac.


Update - 1 July 2016.

Portrait of Edward Pierce (1635 - 1695)
 by Isaac Fuller (1606? - 1672)
Oil on Canvas.
(124.5 x 101.6 cm)
no provenance given.
Yale Centre for British Art
This portrait speaks for itself - the bust depicted in the painting has a cut away back indicating that it is a cast and not a carving - so tentatively, at this time I am ascribing the Huntington Library lead bust to Pierce and dismissing the attribution to Cheere.


Update 17 November 2017

Bronze Bust Described as Euripides
Hubert Le Sueur

This post shows the dangers of the attribution of unsigned sculptures. The bust below in the Royal Collection is much closer to the bust shown in the above portrait of Edward Pearce at Yale. 
The strap? across his shoulder is particularly telling!

Described as Euripides
Hubert Le Sueur
Bronze 60.5 cms
The socle has been cast separately

One of 12 busts commissioned by Charles I from Le Sueur in 1637
Invoiced at £30 but £24 paid
Currently in the Upper Orangery at Hampton Court

 the Royal Collection.


Bust of 'Demosthenes'
Trinity College Library, Dublin.
Peter Scheemakers

Signed PS ft.

One of the group of 14 Busts commissioned from  Peter Scheemakers in 1743.

7 are signed similarly PS Ft
Shakespeare is signed Peter Scheemakers

Five others unsigned busts at Trinity are attributed to Roubiliac but given their quality it seems quite likely to me that Roubiliac used an assistant - perhaps John van Nost III


and my following posts on the busts in the Library at Trinity College, Dublin.

 see also



"Roman General"
A Marble bust by Joseph Wilton at the Getty Museum.

59.7cm including socle.
Signed and dated  I Wilton.fec.1758

This bust was purchased directly from the sculptor by Charles Watson Wentworth, 2nd Marquis of Rockingham probably for display in his London town house but removed to Wentworth Woodhouse.
One of a group of four busts by Wilton, which included the Pseudo Seneca and the Apollo Belvedere all on identical socles.

see The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal: Volume 19, 1991. page 5
Essay by Nicholas Penny


The Getty say - Wilton trained in Flanders and in Paris before traveling to Rome to study antiquities, plaster casts and his own marble copies of antique sculpture; whilst there he collected plaster cast and copied ancient marbles - the collection was purchased by Charles Lennox, Third Duke of Richmond and Lennox, for Richmond House, London.

By 1751, Wilton went on to Florence, Italy, where he soon gained a reputation for his copies of antiquities. On his return to London, Wilton was named co-director of Lennox's Richmond House gallery. He also established a large workshop with several assistants, to whom he often left the execution of large projects. As Statuary to His Majesty, Wilton was commissioned to produce a statue of George III in 1761. Seven years later he inherited the fortune that led to his dissolution. Within a few years he had abandoned sculpture, and by 1786 he declared bankruptcy.


A full size Plaster Bust of Lysimachus

In the 'Skied' Library at Arniston House, Midlothian, Scotland.

This bust is one of a collection of plaster busts in the Skied Library at Arniston designed by William Adam father of Robert Adam in 1725 for the first Robert Dundas (1685-1753), Lord President of the Court of Session. These busts were collected by the second Robert Dundas II also Lord Presidents of the Court of Session, on his grand tour in the 1730's.

Both Lord Presidents studied law at Utrecht as part of the well-known temporary migration of Scottish legal scholars between the 1680s and 1750s.

It has been assumed in the past that these busts were from the workshop of John Cheere - but they are too early given that Cheere did not start in business until 1738.

 A close inspection reveals that the socles have a thin layer of approximately 5mm of a variegated coloured plaster giving it a marble like appearance which I have never seen before. Given that the original for this bust is in the National Museum in Naples, Italy it is distinctly possible that this bust and its fellows came from a workshop in Naples or Rome.

I am not aware of any research into the manufacturing of plaster casts of classical subjects in the mid 18th century but Joseph Wilton certainly collected casts as did Matthew Brettingham who imported a collection from Rome.

I am very grateful to Henrietta Dundas for allowing me the opportunity to visit Arniston and to photograph the busts and statuettes in the upper library.

It is my intention to publish further on the 16 plaster busts and plaster statuettes of Hercules and Shakespeare in due course

For Arniston House see - http://www.arniston-house.co.uk/


 Lisimaco (Lysimachus) King of Thrace.
Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.

A Roman Marble bust of Lysimachus


A Plaster bust at West Wycombe Park.
National Trust.
Life Size.

Described as Aratus or a Pseudo Demosthenes

The bust shown here, originally acquired by Dashwood and on display in the South Colonnade, are part of a group of objects accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax in 2007 and allocated to the National Trust for display at West Wycombe.

Photographs by the author


Plaster bust
Peckover Hall.
Photograph Courtesy National Trust.

It really is about time that the National Trust updated their picture database.
The photographs in the main are of apalling quality - very low resolution and cannot be saved by right clicking.

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