Friday 11 May 2018

Sir William Blackstone statue by John Bacon Snr, Codrington Library.

The Portrait Sculpture in The Codrington Library. 

at All Souls College, Oxford University.

Part 27. 

The Life Size Marble Statue 
of Sir William Blackstone (1723 - 1780).

by John Bacon Senior (1740 - 99).

Blackstone's Formulation  - "It is better that 10 guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer"

He wrote the massive 'Commentaries on the Laws of England' in 1765. The statue depicts him holding this work.

Made a Fellow of All Souls in 1743.
M.P. for Hindon, Wiltshire

For a short biography see -

Commissioned in 1780, the Statue cost £539.

Put up in the Vestibule and then in the Anti chapel
It was moved into its present position in the Library in 1873.

Blackstone was the principal force behind the completion of the Codrington Library, work on which had stalled before he became Bursar in 1747.

He succeeded in using Nicholas Hawksmore's plan of uniting the Baroque Gothic Exterior with a Neo Classical Interior. He was responsible for employing Thomas Roberts the best plasterer in Oxford at the time to  complete the stucco works, and Robert Taney to finish the shelving.

For much more on the architectural programs at All Souls see -

All Souls...... The Chichele Lectures - Howard Colvin and J.S.G.Simmons pub. Oxford, 1989.


For John Bacon Senior see - the Doctoral Thesis of 2007 of  Sarah Burnage of York University where she makes much of the early inspiration of Bacon by Roubiliac

It seems that she unable was unable to include the statue of William Blackstone in this work.

William Blackston by John Bacon Senior.

Usually I try and refrain making value judgements on the works illustrated in this blog, but in this case I have to say that this statue should be considered one of Bacon's masterpieces. The photographs (below) taken by the author hopefully illustrate my opinion. All images are fairly high resolution and large format.


Sir William Blackstone
Long attributed to Joshua Reynolds but now thought to be by a lesser hand

c. 1755

Provenance Philip Goode (b. 1782), solicitor of Howland Street, London, by 1858;1 he bequeathed his ‘original portrait of Sir William Blackstone by Sir Joshua Reynolds’ to his wife and thence to his younger son; sold by order of Chancery [Joseph v. Goode etc], Furber, Price & Furber, 22 October 1873 (‘valuable portrait of Judge Blackstone painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds’); Price & Furber, sold Christie’s, 31 January 1874, lot 300; purchased from Graves, March 1874.

1 The sitter’s grandson, William Blackstone (1810-81), had sold the Gainsborough portrait in 1835, see M. Davies, National Gallery Catalogues, The British School, 1946, p 62; NPG 388 was possibly sold by the family at the same time.

This description from the NPG website

National Portrait Gallery

Sir William Blackstone (1723–1780)

Sir William Blackstone.
Tilley Kettle.
Oil on Canvas.
125 x 99 cms.

Gift of the Vinerian Professors and Scholars 1781.

Bodleian Library

Image from Art UK.

Sir William Blackstone (1723–1780)

Sir William Blackstone
Oil on Canvas
76 x 63 cms.
St Peter's College 

Image from Art UK

Sir William Blackstone (1723–1780)

William Blackstone

Copy after the Gainsborough original in the Tate Gallery.

Oil on Canvas 75 x 66.2 cms
All Souls College.

Image from Art UK.


Portrait after Gainsborough (Waterhouse 67), seated half-length to right in an oval frame on plinth, wearing wig, robes and bands and holding papers in his hand; proof before date added.  1775 Etching and engraving

Sir William Blackstone
Engraved by J Hall after Gainsborough.

222 x 158 cms,
British Museum.


Portrait of Sir William Blackstone after Gainsborough (Waterhouse 67), seated half-length to left, wearing wig, robes and bands and holding papers in his hand, in square frame with cherubs, shield, ornaments, classical medals below; publication line cut off?  1778 Engraving with etching
Sir William Blackstone
Engraving after the Gainsborough Portrait of 1774.

183 x 125 mm

British Museum.


Of tangential interest, for Blackstone and Wine at All Souls see


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