Lawrence Macdonald was closely acquainted with Bertel Thorvaldsen, who was active in Rome until his death in 1844 - Macdonald inherited Thorvaldsen's studio in the Palazzo Barberini. Stories from contemporaries suggest he was a man with an extremely active life - often already out and about by 5.30 in the morning, he is said to have produced nearly 100 portrait busts in the year before his death. Lawrence’s son Alexander Macdonald, born in Rome in 1847, joined his studio at some point in the 1860s as an assistant. He also carved Lawrence’s tombstone after his father's death in 1878, and continued working in the Barberini studio, successfully establishing himself as a sculptor in his own right.
The present lot shows clearly Macdonald’s affinity with ideal statuary, and illustrates the ongoing tradition for ideal sculpture in the Palazzo Barberini studio and amongst Macdonald's Roman contemporaries - compare the Cupid of the present lot to Thorvaldsen’s Cupid with his Bow. It is further likely that the next generation of ideal sculptors, with Alexander Macdonald, was influenced by the present lot - a Venus and Cupid, sold at Christie’s, 19 March 2009, lot 168, shows a idealised Cupid figure, with hair style and a bow carved in a similar manner to the Cupid with a Swan. Whilst the present lot is not recorded in the Dictionary of British Sculptors (op. cit.), the sculpture is fitting for Macdonald’s oeuvre of ideal statuary. Although the iconography of the present lot is slightly unclear, a figure of Cupid or a young boy with a swan or a goose is certainly not unprecedented - a Roman marble copy after a Greek original is in the Louvre (inv. no. Ma 40 -MR 168). Furthermore, Thorvaldsen executed several drawings and reliefs in the 1830s of genii, and a plaster cast for the Genius of Poetry is in the Thorvaldsensmuseum in Copenhagen (inv. no. A532) which may well have served as inspiration for the present lot.
I. Roscoe, E. Hardy and M.G. Sullivan, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain, 1660-1851, pp. 775-781; M. Greenwood, 'Macdonald, Lawrence (1799-1878)', in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, online edition available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/17445 [page accessed 25/10/2018]; E. Davies and E. Tarizzo (eds.) Canova and his Legacy, exh. cat. Tomasso Brothers Fine Art London, 2017, cat no. 15
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