This plaster cast is the only example of Pistrucci's bust of Paganini known to have survived. As recently as the Pistrucci exhibition mounted earlier this year at the Soane Museum and Waddesdon Manor, its existence was not acknowledged. Its provenance, however, can be traced back to a near contemporary of Pistrucci at the Royal Mint: George Makins.
Pistrucci's bust of Paganini was probably inspired by the wax portrait in the Museo della Zecca in Rome (illustrated Stefanelli, vol.2, no.144) and was complete by February 1832, the date appearing on the present bust. It conforms to Pistrucci's favoured herm type truncation used in all his portraits. There is no record of Pistrucci having carved a marble version and a document dating to 1910 states on the authority of Makins that no more than six plaster casts were made. The original mould was sold at Pistrucci's studio sale after his death in 1855 (untraced).
Another version of the bust is mentioned in a letter Paganini wrote to his friend and lawyer Luigi Germi soon after its completion on 29th February 1832. In it, he told Germi that Pistrucci had given him a copy of his ‘colossal’ portrait, and that he would send it to Germi in Genoa. Although de Courcy's asserts in her seminal 1957 Paganini biography that this bust was 'probably lost in transit', it may be possible to identify it with the plaster cast mentioned as untraced in the 1955 Pistrucci exhibition in Rome but which Stefanelli (vol.1, p.37, no.3) states was previously in the Town Hall of Genoa. This is probably the same bust that was accidentally destroyed in the 1980's after its transfer to the Paganini Conservatoire.
A privately held document dated 7th February 1910 marks the first reference to the present bust and establishes the identity of its first recorded owner. It is also interesting for asserting that the bracket, included in the present lot, was also of Pistrucci's design. It states: The late Mr. Makins who was one of the officials of the Royal Mint presented me with the life-size bust of Paganini by Benedetto Pistrucci... [he] told me that it was Pistrucci who designed the George and Dragon on our coinage and that he made only six examples of the Paganini bust and that mine had the original bracket which was also of his design.
A fascinating account of the day when Paganini sat to Pistrucci was recorded by the portrait painter Daniel Maclise in 'The Court Journal' of 1st December 1832. Maclise recalled: I went to his apartment in the Regent’s Quadrant and found Paganini preparing to sit for his bust by Benedetto Pistrucci. Signor Filippo Pistrucci [Benedetto’s brother] then arrived... Fears were expressed that a winter in this country might prove too rude a shock for Paganini’s feeble frame. [Paganini] laughed, and turning his head from the modeler towards me, said to F[ilippo]: ‘I believe Signor M[aclise] will never die; for he has already passed forty winters here...’. Soon afterwards Paganini fell asleep, through fatigue so disagreeably familiar to all sitters for a bust. Maclise added: Whilst Paganini was in position for his bust, Signor Pistrucci remarked to me: ‘What a fine head for a study by Vandyke!’.
Mostra di Benedetto Pistrucci (1784-1855); de Courcy; Broli Stefanelli, vol.1, p.37; Milano & Trusted, pp. 9, 19-20, 23; Andrew McGee, Paganini: The Man, the Music and the Legend, [forthcoming]
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