This beautifully carved autograph bust of George II by Michael Rysbrack follows a terracotta model taken from life and dated 1738 in the Royal Collection at Kensington Palace (RCIN 1412). The terracotta is paired with a bust of Queen Caroline (1683-1737; RCIN 1411). Vertu, in his diaries from 1738, records that ‘the KING … sat to [Rysbrack] at Kensington twice. to have his picture modelled in Clay. the likeness much approvd on – and with a good Air. – also a Moddel of the Queen vastly like. Tho’ not done from the life’ (as quoted in Webb, op. cit.
, p. 155). The terracotta busts were subsequently offered in Rysbrack's sale on 14 February 1767, lots 57-58, there acquired by Sir Edward Littleton for Teddesley Hall. They were inherited by Lord Hatherton, whose collection was sold by Spink in 1932, where they were purchased by Queen Mary and installed in the Private Apartments at Windsor (Webb, op. cit
., p. 155).
Rysbrack executed a pair of marble versions of the busts for George II, who placed them in the new library at St James' Palace, designed for Queen Caroline by William Kent; though she never saw it since she died in 1737 before it was completed (Esdaile, op. cit
., p. 41). These busts are almost certainly the prime marble versions and can still be seen today in the Royal Collection at Kensington Palace (inv. nos. RCIN 31322 and 31317). The fact that Rysbrack kept the terracotta models indicates that he was given permission to execute further versions. Interestingly, a marble bust of Queen Caroline, signed M. RYSBRACK
, is housed in the Wallace Collection, London (inv. no. S24). Given that the models were conceived as pendants, and in the absence of another clear candidate, it is possible that the present bust is the missing partner to the Wallace Collection marble.
The model was adapted by Rysbrack, and an older king appears in busts in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle (St George's Hall) (inv. no. RCIN 31623) and in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. no. A10:1 to 3-1932; catalogued as workshop). A further bust of George II by Rysbrack is recorded at Christ Church, Oxford (see Roscoe, op. cit.
, p. 1087).
In the present bust Rysbrack presents the King in armour in the guise of a Roman general, the wreath of triumph surmounting his head. The attention to detail, with the fantastical all'antica
armour, centred by the mask of Medusa at the chest and balanced with elaborate lion mask pauldrons, is typical of the sculptor's portrait busts. This format is exemplified by Rysbrack's busts of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, of which an important version from the Northumberland collection was sold in these rooms on 9 July 2014, lot 12. In the present bust, however, there is an even greater degree of elaboration, reflecting the status of the sitter. Dramatically draped across the torso is a silk sash suspended with the emblem of the Order of the Garter, The Lesser George
. This addition is probably a deliberate reference to Bernini's lost bust of Charles I.
Michael Rysbrack was one of the greatest British 18th
-century sculptors. A Fleming by birth, he arrived in London in 1720. His early tomb sculptures captivated the British public and soon he could count Lord Burlington, Viscount Cobham, and Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, amongst his most loyal patrons. Sarah Churchill’s patronage led him to create one of his most important tombs, that of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace. Rysbrack’s greatest public commission was his equestrian statue of King William III in Queen Square Bristol of 1733-1736. Important works by Rysbrack can be found in many of the world’s leading museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
A. Esdaile, The Art of John Michael Rysbrack in Terracotta, cat. Spink, London, July 1932, p. 41, M. I. Webb, Michael Rysbrack, London, 1954; J. Kenworthy-Browne, 'Portrait Busts by Rysbrack', National Trust Studies 1980 (1979), 67; Robert Williams and Katharine Eustace. "Rysbrack." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 11 May. 2014. ; Katharine Eustace, ‘Rysbrack, (John) Michael (1694–1770)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/24427, accessed 12 August 2017]