Since the two major retrospective exhibitions –of plaster models at Prato (1978); and of marbles and plasters at the Accademia, Florence (2011) – Lorenzo Bartolini (1777-1850) has been recognised as one of the great sculptors of Europe. His style is quite different from the traditional neo-classical style of Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen, because it is not based on the antique or on standard academic principles. He was a controversial and polemical artist. His fascinating life has all the drama of a novel by Stendhal. He was proud and independent; a rebel, revolutionary and republican. At Paris he became Napoleonist and remained so all his life. His views were always strong and he was inclined to quarrel, even with friends. Today there can be few connoisseurs who do not appreciate the beauty and quality of his works.
The Campbell Sisters is more than one of the most beautiful Italian portrait groups of the neo-classical period: it is an action group. It is Bartolini's representation of a dance, or perhaps more specifically a dance lesson. Although few details of Emma and Julia Campbell's lives are known, Bartolini has sculpted a scene of an intimate moment between the two sisters, as the elder guides her sibling in learning the delicate routine. It is an evocative image. We can imagine the Campbell family in Italy, Lady Charlotte, their mother, with her eight children living away from the formalities, and expense, of London and Edinburgh society. The Campbell Sisters could be an episode from a Jane Austen novel, captured in marble. The girls practice their steps for a Florentine ball, and the grace and charm of their youth shines in the white marble. Bartolini's innovative approach to sculpture, discussed below, both softens and enlivens the often static and cold neo-classical portrait genre to create one of the masterpieces of early 19th century Italian sculpture.
Bartolini’s portrait busts may be found throughout Europe, and a good number of them are in Britain. To Britain too there came only three portrait statues, all dating from his early career in Florence (1815-23). The group of the Campbell Sisters is the finest of them, and was modelled by 1821. Emma and Julia Campbell were the youngest of Lady Charlotte’s children. It was made at the time when Bartolini’s oldest and best friend, J.-A.-D. Ingres, was living in Florence. The group is Bartolini’s only composition that shows figures actually in motion (except for the unique and dynamic Astyanax group made after 1840; Milan, Poldo Pezzoli Museum). The date, 1821, places The Campbell Sisters in the period of fully developed neo-classicism: that of Canova’s late works, and Thorvaldsen’s mature works, both of whom worked in Rome. The format looks classical, with the girls wearing mid-length tunics in Greek style. Yet Bartolini was opposed to the classical style of Canova, aiming instead to imitate the ‘beauty of nature’ according to principles he had learnt at Paris in the studio of Jacques-Louis David. It invites comparison with groups by other sculptors. It has a certain, if remote, similarity to the group of Princesses Luise and Friederika of Prussia by Gottfried Schadow (1793, Berlin, Nationalgalerie); but we are not certain if Bartolini knew it. Both Canova and Thorvaldsen modelled groups of The Graces, (in 1812 and 1817 respectively) which, compared with this, seem classical and static; while The Dancing Hours by Carlo Finelli (1824, St Petersburg) in comparison seems frivolous.
Bartolini described the work as ‘Gruppo delle sorelle Campbell in atto di ballare il Valzer’. However, it is not our present day idea of a waltz: the girls dance side by side and are out of step. On the right, Emma, the older sister, appears to be teaching the dance to Julia, whose fluttering tunic implies rapid motion. The folds resemble those on Canova’s statue of Hebe carved for Empress Josephine, which Bartolini may well have seen when it arrived in Paris in about 1805. The marble is of extreme delicacy. The sculptor’s working model in plaster is among his many surviving gessi, which are on permanent display at the Florence Accademia. The finished marble appears to be identical to the model in all respects except for Julia’s hair, which in the model has a wreath of flowers. It is certainly amongst Bartolini's most important sculpture, and it is odd that contemporary or original documents relating to it are very few. Notes made in Bartolini’s studio were transcribed by Tinti (1936) and quoted in the catalogue of the 1978 Prato exhibition. They give no dates, but say that the group was commissioned by the brother of the girls for a cost of 1200 florins or 500 luigi (i.e. about £500), and was sent to Edinburgh. No evidence has as yet been found in the Argyll archives at Inveraray Castle.
Lady Charlotte Campbell (1777-1861) and the commissioning of the marble in Florence
Lady Charlotte was the youngest daughter of the 5th Duke of Argyll. She had beauty and intelligence, and was well known in society at Edinburgh and London. In 1808 their father died and her elder brother William (1766-1839) became 6th Duke. In 1796 Charlotte married a distant cousin, John Campbell who, as eldest of the fourteen children of Walter Campbell of Shawfield, had only a modest fortune. At Edinburgh Lady Charlotte ‘queened it’ over the literary set, and wrote poems. Her marriage however was not happy. In 1809 John Campbell died, leaving her with eight children but little money. For financial reasons, in 1810 she accepted the position of lady-in-waiting, or ‘governess’, to Caroline, Princess of Wales, who was by then irrevocably separated from the Prince. Although Lady Charlotte’s sympathies were on the whole with the Princess, the position was not an easy one and in 1815 she resigned.
Before long, being short of money, Lady Charlotte took up residence in Florence. The dates and movements are not known for sure, but Lord Gower reported, on 24 November 1816, ‘The Campbells are just arrived here’. Her friend Mary Berry saw her there in September 1817; and she seems to have been in Florence until August 1820. On 17 March 1818 Lady Charlotte married the Rev. Edward John Bury. He was sixteen years younger and earlier had been tutor to the eldest son. The ceremony took place in the British Minister’s house in Florence. Mary Berry was present, but the family and society as a whole were not pleased. Around 1820, the time when Bartolini modelled the group, Lady Charlotte Bury (as she was now) appears to have had with her only the two youngest girls, Emma and Julia. But she was never well off, and the person who paid for the sculpture is not certain. Bartolini described it thus: Gruppo di due Danzatrice sorelle di sig. Campbell da lui comesse, e spedite a Edimbourg. In spite of this record, it seems unlikely that the group was ordered and paid for by the eldest son, Walter. The cost was 500 luigi, which was about £500. That was not expensive for such a work, yet £500 was an unwarrantable extravagance for a family that had come to Italy to save money. Possibly Lady Charlotte’s brother, the 6th Duke of Argyll, paid for it. They are said to have been ‘very close’, and both enjoyed spending money. In fact, on his death in 1839 the Duke left considerable debts on the estate. Nor is it known when the group went to Inveraray. So far, the only evidence we have for its presence at Inveraray Castle is from Mario Tinti, writing in 1936, who said that it was in the dining room. This has a really splendid interior, decorated in the 1780s by Robert Milne for Lady Charlotte’s father, the 5th Duke of Argyll.
Two British travellers noticed our group in Bartolini’s studio. The novelist Lady Morgan wrote a book on France (1817), and then another on Italy (1821) in which she said: ‘There is scarcely a living bust in great Britain, on which fashion has set her mark, or notoriety stamped her signature, that may not be found in the studio and galleries of Signore Bartolini’; and she went on: ‘The groups of the lovely children of Prince Esterhazy, and the beautiful daughters of Lady Charlotte Campbell, are historical works; and…independent of the extraordinary fidelity of the likenesses…they are eminently precious as specimens of the perfection to which modern sculpture has arrived.’
Mary Berry, writer and diarist who knew ‘everybody’ at home and abroad, made visits to Rome and Florence, and on one of her visits she wrote in her journal: ‘7 June 1821. Dined at the Lockes with Bartolini, at whose house we had been to see the Duke of Devonshire’s vase, and two of the young Campbells, Emma and Julia, grouped as dancers, now modelled in terra cotta. The pose of the figures is really charming, and the drapery simple and flowing, without affectation.’
It is due only to Mary Berry that we know the names of the girls. Her mention of ‘terra cotta’ is puzzling. Bartolini, and most sculptors of his day, did not work with terracotta models. The original modelling will of course have been in clay, which then, unfired, would be cast in plaster.
In 1820, Lady Charlotte still had a long life before her. She wrote more than a dozen novels, but the only book to be remembered, and the only one to make money, was the Diary illustrative of the Times of George IV (published anonymously in 1838), this being a personal journal of her time as governess to Princess Caroline.
The dedication to John Flaxman
The tree stump is inscribed: BARTOLINI FECE E DEDICÒ FLAXMAN (made by Bartolini and dedicated [to] Flaxman). Only three of Bartolini’s statues bear dedications in a similar lettering: the plaster model of Madame Gouriev (1821) (but not the finished marble) is dedicated to Ingres and the Nymph of the Arno (1825) is dedicated to Giovanni degli Alessandri, President of the Florence Academy.
It is highly unlikely that Bartolini ever saw any sculpture by John Flaxman (1755-1826), but the English sculptor had exercised a strong influence over him. Bartolini first came across Flaxman’s illustrations in 1797, at Volterra. When he came to Paris two years later, he found Flaxman was eagerly studied by David’s pupils, and in particular by young Ingres. These works caused a classical simplification of style in the works of David, Ingres and others. In autumn 1802, Flaxman himself came to Paris. He came to know Ingres, and Bartolini will certainly have met him.
What can we detect of Flaxman’s influence in Bartolini’s works? Certainly, his few surviving classical bas reliefs show the same firm, economical outlines; and in 1972 a vase signed by Bartolini was on the London art market, carved in relief with the Furies after Flaxman’s Aeschylus. In his statues, the spare contours seem to owe something to Flaxman. Then, Flaxman when drawing was able skilfully to combine two or more figures and fuse them as it were into unity. Something of this closeness can be observed in the Campbell Sisters.
Lorenzo Bartolini and the British Grand Tourists
After the fall of Napoleon’s empire in 1814, British tourists came to Italy in great and ever increasing numbers. Some of them were scholars, some artists, and some merely sightseers. The majority were on their way to Rome and they would stop off for a few days at Florence. From 1814, Lord Burghersh (later 7th Earl of Westmorland) was British Minister, and his wife Priscilla Anne, the favourite niece of the Duke of Wellington, was active and highly intelligent. Largely through her support and encouragement, many English tourists found their way to Bartolini’s studio, and some had their portraits made. Curiously, Lord and Lady Burghersh seem not to have commissioned their own portrait busts until 1817; Bartolini’s reputation was established before that.
His earliest known mention by an Englishman is by Lord Gower (later 2nd Duke of Sutherland), who wrote to his mother on 24 November 1816: ‘There is an excellent bust-maker here, Bartolini, but as you have one already of me [by Nollekens, 1810], I have not thought it advisable to repeat the likeness.’ However, when he reached Rome that year he had his bust made by Thorvaldsen.
Mary Berry, a delightful chatterbox, was often at Florence. On her first meeting with Bartolini, she wrote in her journal: ‘2 October 1817 In the morning we went to Bartolini’s, the sculptor. He makes very good likenesses in his busts; but he works to sell, and not to immortalise his name. One group, however, of a Venus and a Cupid, and a figure of a Nymph, are really fine. He would part with them for almost nothing, to show what he can do in marble of his own composition.’
In the New Monthly Magazine (1824) there is a long article describing Bartolini’s studio, and the anonymous writer mentions ‘the original models of the infinite number of the busts which Bartolini has taken’, both of distinguished, and (the majority) undistinguished people. The article is appreciative not only of Bartolini’s talent, but of his intellect and conversation.
While admitting the excellence of Greek sculpture, Bartolini had discovered another style to imitate. He saw in 15th century Florentine art a particularly satisfying blend of classicism and naturalism. The style appears most obviously in his statues, particularly in the Vendemmiatore or Grape Presser (c. 1820), and the beautiful Arnina or Nymph of the Arno which, although not completed in marble until 1825, was probably the model which Mary Berry saw in 1817. At this early stage his ideal statues were not numerous, but they included the Carità Educatrice (1817-35, Palazzo Pitti), a recumbent Juno (c.1823-32?) and the Bacchante (1824-34, Chatsworth). After that he made a number of ideal nudes such as Fiducia in Dio (1834, Poldo Pezzoli Museum, Milan), and the Nymph with a Scorpion (ante 1837, Louvre) which Baudelaire greatly admired at the Paris Salon in 1845.
In 1819 and 1820 Ingres came to Florence and remained there for four years. Initially he lived in Bartolini’s house and shared his studio and painted a very fine portrait of the sculptor (Louvre). In 1820 he wrote to a friend: ‘[Bartolini] is surrounded by enemies of every kind, who [do not comprehend] his great talent which, among them, resembles a bright shining light in the midst of chaos; he has an honest mind and despises everything that is bourgeois.’
Lady Morgan, Italy, 1821; H. Matthew, The Diary of an invalid, 1824; New Monthly Magazine II, London, 1824, pp. 231-237; Lady Lewis (ed.), Extracts from the Journals and Corrrespondence of Miss Berry [1783-1852], 1866; Lord Gower, Stafford House Letters, 1891; Lady Bury, The Diary of a Lady-in-Waiting (1839), 1908; M. Tinti, Lorenzo Bartolini, Rome, 1936; G. Hubert, Les sculpteurs Italiens en France sous la Révolution, l’empire et la restauration, Paris, 1964; G. Hubert, La sculpture dans l’Italie napoléonienne, Paris, 1964; Lorenzo Bartolini, exh. cat. Prato, 1978; J. Kenworthy-Browne, ‘Sculptor and revolutionary. British portraits by Bartolini’, Country Life, 8 June 1979, pp. 1655-1656F. Falletti, S. Bietoletti and A. Caputo (eds.), Lorenzo Bartolini. Beauty and truth in marble, exh. cat. Galleria dell’ Accademia, Florence, 2011
We would like to thank Jonathan Kenworthy-Browne for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.
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