Rare Derby figure of John Wilkes, modelled by John Bacon, c. 1768
Rare Derby figure of John Wilkes, MP, modelled standing leaning on a pillar, pen in hand, manuscript balanced on the pillar, at his feet a child hands him a phrygian cap on a stick, while leaning on a large book, set on a rococo scroll base.
probably the work of John Bacon,
Circa 1768 – or a little earlier
31cm high, 17cm wide
Small repair to cherub’s finger, Wilke’s pen
Curious original blue glaze splash from something above him in the kiln.
This important piece is the subject of a paper elaborating on the attribution to John Bacon, along with a new exploration of this important 18th century sculptor.
Figure no. E45 in Bradshaw
ref. Bradshaw p110, p109 for an illustration with decoration including his ’Bill of Rights’.
He is complimented in the Derby figure list of ‘notables’ by a figure of Field Marshal Sir Henry Seymour Conway, which Bradshaw numbers E42. Side by side, they mirror each other’s stance, and their attributes also conform, Conway with his cannon and cherub with a shield, Wilkes with his paperwork and book, and his cherub offering a Phrygian cap, the symbol of freedom.
Bradshaw doesn’t offer an attribution for the sculptor, and several similar figures of admirals- Howe, Duncan, and Hood – while similar, are attributed to Pierre Stephan, who only started at Derby in 1770, too late to be a candidate for this figure.
A very likely candidate I have studied is John Bacon senior (1740-99). Bacon was the son of a cloth maker in Southwark, who in 1755 was apprenticed to Nicholas Crispe, proprietor of the Vauxhall porcelain works. According to one 19th century source, Crispe “taught him the art of modelling various groups, such as the deer and the holly-tree, the bird and the bush, and the shepherd and shepherdess….” (Cunningham 1883)
Crispe was bankrupted in 1764, freeing Bacon. He attended the school of sculpture at the Royal Academy, after which he achieved a position as sculptor-manager at Coade’s artificial stone works in Lambeth.
He went on to become perhaps the most important sculptor of his time, with Westminster Abbey full of memorial sculpture by him, and by his son, also John Bacon.
This work shares a lot with the famous 1740 memorial to Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey, designed by William Kent and carved by Peter Scheemakers. The next figures in the Derby figure lists consist of a re-visit of this sculpture, and a companion piece created to match depicting Milton. They loved symmetry, with these ‘pairs’ usually sitting together nicely, and so a companion to Wilkes can be seen in the figure of Field Marshal Sir Henry Seymour Conway, standing leaning on a cannon. Sculptors of both pieces are unknown; what an intriguing possibility that a very qualified sculptor of the time was inspired by the Westminster Abbey work – and went on to have many of his own pieces housed there…..
More to come on this subject!
See the V&S figure here