Subject/Sitter/Maker: Portraits from an eighteenth-century artistic circle
14 August – 14 November 2009
Exhibition in Gallery 4
Offering a unique opportunity to compare likenesses in two and three dimensions, this study exhibition focuses on five works which depict two of eighteenth-century London’s leading lights.
Subject/Sitter/Maker encourages the viewer to compare and contrast painting and sculpture as art forms and in turn illustrates the interactions between the worlds of fine art, performing art and literature which characterised this period.
The display focuses on two major figures at the heart of London’s cultural life and the creative partnership between them: the sculptor Louis François Roubiliac (c.1702?-62) and the actor and theatre impresario David Garrick (1717-79). Both became famous for making representations of other people in their respective fields (sculpting and acting) and they also sat for many portraits themselves – by sculptors and painters who were more often than not their friends as well.
Garrick commissioned Roubiliac to create a monument to Shakespeare for his home and is also said to have posed for it; Roubiliac’s first model for the monument is included in the exhibition. Roubiliac was subsequently painted (not once but twice), tools in hand, at work on another Shakespeare model, and the painting was then published as a print, which also forms part of the display.
Soon after, Garrick sat for a portrait bust by Roubiliac, and Roubiliac is again portrayed at work on it. The double portrait of sorts, with Roubiliac and his bust of Garrick, is shown here alongside a version of the Garrick bust and a portrait bust of Roubiliac made at the same time by his friend Joseph Wilton. Both Roubiliac and Garrick are therefore subject and sitter and the display allows the viewer to scrutinise this complex relationship.
Born in France, Roubiliac was in London by 1730 where he established a studio on St Martin’s Lane: a centre of the emerging cosmopolitan artistic circle, which included Handel, Hogarth, Farinelli and also Garrick. He became a leading sculptor renowned for his striking and innovative monuments in Westminster Abbey as well as for his ability to capture a sitter’s character and appearance in his portrait busts. David Garrick made his reputation playing Shakespearean characters and became manager of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He built a villa in Hampton with a temple for the Shakespeare monument, which is now in The British Museum.