Friday, 22 January 2016

The Alscot Park Marble and Plaster busts of Shakespeare by Rysbrack.

The Alscot Park Busts of William Shakespeare.
by Michael Rysbrack.
The Marble bust of William Shakespeare
Signed by Michael Rysbrack
dated 1760.
Made for James West. P.R.S., F.S.A., (1703 - 72),
Secretary to the Treasury and recorder successively for Poole and St Albans.
Formerly at Alscot Park.
585mm tall. socle 215 mm tall.
Now at Birmingham Museum.
A Letter dated 16 January 1758 from Joseph Greene schoolmaster of Stratford on Avon to James West of Alscot Park:-
The first two paragraphs relate to his work on West's collection of books but the third and fourth relate to the making of Rysbrack's bust of Shakespeare.
If Mr Rysbrack carves your Shakespeare from ye mask you had of me, I am very sure it answers exactly to our Original bust; for Heath ye carver and I took it down from ye chancel wall and laid it exactly in a horizontal posture before we made ye cast, which we executed with much Care, So that no Slipping of the Materials could occasion ye unnatural distance in the face that he mentions.
If ye have ye Folio Edition of Shakespeare plays printed in 1632, there is facig ye Title-page a picture of ye Poet engraved by Martin Droeshout, and declared by Ben Johnson in a few verses affix'd to be a thorough resemblance of him. Mr Kendal our late recorder and I agreed in our sentiments that there was a Considerable lightness of that picture to ye bust in our church. I have not ye Cut but perhaps ye irregularity of features may be observed in that also.
If it could be done for an inconsiderable expense, before ye Mould is destroy'd I wish your Honour would Secure for me a plaister face from it.
I am with great thankfulness
                                 Your Most oblig'd humble Servant
                                               Joseph Green.'
The next we hear is Rysbrack writing to Sir Edward Littleton in November 1759, by which time he had modelled the bust saying it was 'to the liking of every person who have seen it' and continues 'Mr West belonging to the Treasury who lives in Stratford upon Avon likes it so well that I am going to do it for him in Marble'
 In his letters to Littleton he talks about receiving Lord Rockingham's portrait of Shakespeare (Knellers copy of the Chandos Portrait and says that he will make a drawing from it, though 'I don't think it is so good a Picture as they Brag of neither is there Spirit in it'
 Although dated 1760 it must have remained in Rysbracks London workshop until 1763 when Rysbrack wrote to West on 11th July
' The last time You did me the Pleasure to call at my House, you said there Must be some letters put on the Pedestal of the Bust for Shakespeare which have been finishes a long while since. I desire You will please to let me have them and they shall be put on the pedestal directly, as I have nothing to live on but my Business I want money and am to Great Expenses to Continue where I am without business, I must therefore retire for my Own best advantage.
Your Most Obedient and humble Servant
                                                                    Mich: Rysbrack
P.S. Sir  If you do not want any letters put on the Pedestal, I will send it home as it is'
 Tardiness with payment was a common occurrence and must have made very difficult for many artists and craftsmen of this period as this letter shows.
These letters are quoted from Michael Rysbrack, Sculptor, by MI Webb, pub. Country Life, 1954.
The Plaster bust of Shakespeare in the hall is a version of the Rysbrack Shakespeare supplied by John Cheere (check source!) to James West at Alscot Park, Warwickshire. This is a plaster version of Rysbrack's Shakespeare.

There were also plaster busts of Newton and Prior in the Hall.

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