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Sculpture: S0029


William Shakespeare








Height: 62cm
Width: 59cm
Depth: 29cm

Other materials

Terracotta; pink marble socle 17 x 35 diam. painted terracotta veined with green to complement the colour of the cleaned bust


“WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE / BY / LOUIS FRANCOIS ROUBILIAC” (black lettering on gilded wooden plaque on socle)


Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre?; Mr Cliff; Professor Owen; the Duke of Devonshire, by whom presented, 1855

Other number

Gift 139

Exhibition history

Sir John Soane Museum, The Cloud Capped Towers in Soane's Imagination, 21 Apr 2016-1 Oct 2016

Related works

Two other casts of Roubiliac's bust of Shakespeare are known; that in the British Museum mentioned by Larson and another in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Memorial Gallery, Stratford-upon-Avon (207). There are differences in the modelling of the head in the British Museum example, although the lower parts are identical. The Shakespeare items in Roubiliac's posthumous sale included eight plaster figures and the mould for the figure, as well as three terracotta and three plaster busts. There was also a mould for the bust and a marble bust.


H. &. C. Wood “Shakespeare's Town and Times” (1896) (frontispiece); Katharine A. Esdaile “The Life and Works of Louis Francois Roubiliac” (1928) p. 127, illustrated XLI

The Garrick’s Shakespeare bust by Roubiliac is a crisp description of what is an 18th century ideal rather than a representation of the Bard himself. The sculpture was presented to the Garrick Club by the Duke of Devonshire in 1855-1856. From the minutes of the Club for 15 December 1855 the following letter from the Duke states:
“Sir, I have for some time wished to pay a visit to the Garrick Club, and ask you to show me that most interesting collection which belongs to it; but having again left London for some time another delay is caused, and I must write to you to say that there is in my possession a very interesting Bust of Shakespeare, which I wish to present to the Club, as a token of goodwill and also of regrets that the state of my health has hitherto obliged me to appear so remiss as a President. The Bust, which is in terra cotta, was in the possession of Professor Owen of the College of Surgeons, from whom I purchased it. It was discovered in pulling down the old Duke's Theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, where it was placed over one of the Stage doors, the Bust of Ben Jonson (accidentally destroyed by the workmen) occupying a corresponding place over the other door - Shakespeare having been rescued by the timely interposition of Mr. Cliff (Professor Owen's father-in- law) the Bust became his property and was given by him to Professor Owen. It is my wish to know at what time it will be convenient for the Bust to be received, and Sir Joseph Paxton, in whose possession the Bust now is in Sydenham, will forward it any time if you will inform him or me at what time it should be sent. Yours & C. Devonshire”
Lincoln's Inn Fields was built in 1714 and vacated in 1732 when the manager, John Rich, moved to his new theatre in Covent Garden. There were occasional performances for 12 years, including the 1742-1743 theatrical season under the management of Henry Giffard. Although flush from his success with David Garrick’s debut the previous season at Goodman’s Fields he could no longer compete without his star actor and the season at Lincoln’s Inn ended prematurely, the theatre going dark forever. It was Giffard who placed the bust by a drinking fountain close to the entrance to the theatre, where it would remain until rediscovered by William Clift, first curator of the Hunterian collection at the Royal College of Surgeons.
A further example in terracotta can be found in the British Museum, which was bought from Roubiliac’s studio sale after the artist’s death.
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