Christopher Hewetson executed a marble bust of John Campbell when the sitter first visited Rome circa 1784. The signed, prime version is at Cawdor Castle in Nairnshire, Scotland (Roscoe, op. cit., p. 611). The present bust is near-identical to the prime marble, the main difference being the absence of a signature. However, the quality of the execution and the similarity of the details such as the eyebrows, as well as the reverse, which is very close to the prime version, indicates that the present marble is a second version commissioned by the patron and executed by Hewetson, possibly with the involvement of his workshop. Hewetson is known to have sculpted more than one version of the same model, the main precedent being his Bust of Pope Clement XIV, one of which is entitled and dated but unsigned (de Breffny, op. cit., p. 55, no. 4a). Whilst the majority of Hewetson's busts are indeed signed, this is not the case with all of them. According to de Breffny, the marble bust of Frau von Kniphausen is unsigned (de Breffny, op. cit., p. 56, no. 16b). It may be that Hewetson saw no need to sign the present bust if it was commissioned by the same patron as a second version.
John Campbell, who later in life became first Baron Cawdor of Castlemartin, was an Italophile who visited Italy on several occasions during his lifetime. He was the first British patron of Antonio Canova, commissioning some of the sculptor’s iconic works, including the Cupid and Psyche (Louvre, Paris, inv. no. MR 1777) and the Hebe (Chatsworth, Trustees of the Devonshire Settlement). By the early part of the 19th century he was one of the largest landowners in Britain, owning both the vast Stackpole Court and Golden Grove estates in Wales, as well as Cawdor Castle in Scotland. Campbell nonetheless suffered from money troubles and he was forced to sell much of his art collection in 1800, including the Lante Vase now at Woburn Abbey. Canova discussed Campbell in a letter to Mengs in June 1787, ‘My head is still full of the good time the Colonel [Campbell] gave me, bless him, and I shall never forget, come what may. If it is true that friendship and gratitude can raise a man’s spirits, when I take my chisel in hand to work for the Colonel I shall work better than I have ever worked and perhaps better than I shall ever work for anyone else’ (as quoted in Davis, op. cit., p. 50). Campbell first visited Rome in 1784 at which time it is believed Hewetson carved the prime version of his portrait, since Campbell attended a function with Thomas Giffard whose portrait was cut that same year (de Breffny, op. cit., no. 3). He returned to Rome in 1786-1787. It seems logical that Campbell may have commissioned the present bust on this second visit.
The Irish-born sculptor Christopher Hewetson moved within an elite circle of artists and scholars who were at the centre of intellectual life in Rome in the closing decades of the 18th century. He associated with Anton Raffael Mengs, Gavin Hamilton and Johannes Pichler, and particularly with the influential Thomas Jenkins, who served as effective banker to Grand Tourists in Rome. Hewetson established a reputation for himself as the pre-eminent portrait sculptor in Rome in the 1770’s and 1780’s. His career was advanced with a commission for a Bust of Pope Clement XIV in 1771. He went on to sculpt portraits of many of the leading visitors to Rome, including the Duke of Gloucester and, of course, John Campbell, Lord Cawdor. Malcolm Baker has noted that Hewetston’s works betray a unique sensitivity in the depiction of facial phsyiognomy and, particularly, hair. According to Baker, Hewetson adopted different formats for his busts, ranging from the Baroque (Clement XIV) to the Roman Republican (Cawdor, bare chested)(Baker, op. cit.). Later in life, Hewetson’s star was eclipsed by the rise of Canova, but he didn’t resent his rival’s success. Instead, after losing two commissions to the younger sculptor, he hosted a dinner in Canova’s honour in 1787. Hewetson died in Naples in 1798. He is regarded as the greatest Irish sculptor of the 18th century.
T. Hodgkinson, ‘C. Hewetson: An Irish Sculptor in Rome’, The Volume of the Walpole Society, vol. 34, 1952-1954, pp. 42-54; F. Russell, ‘A Distinguished Generation, The Cawdor Collection’, Country Life, vol. CLXXV, June 1984, pp. 1746-1748; B. de Breffny, ‘Christopher Hewetson’, Irish Arts Review (1984-1987), vol. 3, no. 3, Autumn, 1986, pp. 52-75; M. Baker in E. P. Bowron and J. J. Rishel (eds.), Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century, exh. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Arts, Philadelphia, and MFA, Houston, 2000; J. E. Davies, ‘John Campbell, First Baron Cawdor (1755-1821) Patron, Collector and Connoisseur’, in C. Mason (ed.), Canova: Bust of Peace, London, 2018, pp. 50-55