SAMUEL JOSEPH (BRITISH, 1791-1850)
BUST OF A BRITISH GENTLEMAN
Carved marble | Signed "S. JOSEPH SCULP" and dated 1843 verso
Item # 107PSF14E
A very finely carved portrayal of an English statesman, the work is particularly interesting in light of its striking resemblance to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Beyond the iconic nose and strong brow over distinctive almond eyes, our bust presents with a powerful jaw flanked by the slight sagging jowls consistent with Wellesley, who would have been seventy-four years old when this bust was carved. Any attribution would require some further research into Johnson's oeuvre, as the list of his work presently records only two works for the year of 1843: the Bust of Joseph Wilson of Highbury (Exhibited at the Royal Academy, London) and his Statue of Sir David Wilkie RA (Tate Gallery).
Joseph's delicate handling of the surfaces and fluid carving of the sitter's features is highly individual and is to great effect, the eyes are gentle and warm, conveying a steadiness and sense of wisdom. Despite his apparent age there is a certain youthful energy in his strong shoulders and powerful demeanor. Rather than looking at the viewer, the figure looks through us to an unknown point in the distance.
The work is signed across the reverse of the shoulders "S. JOSEPH SCULP 1843".
Born in London to Richard and Lucy Joseph in 1791, Samuel Joseph studied first under Peter Rouw I and his first work exhibited at the Royal Academy was apparently a portrait of his mentor's child. He studied at the Royal Academy Schools starting in 1811, winning silver medals in both 1811 and 1812 and in 1815 achieving a gold medal.
Finding some difficulty in securing work in the highly competitive London market, in 1821 he moved to Edinburgh where he specialized in executing portrait busts and grew a long list of clients composed of Edinburgh's intellectual elite: writers, academics and noted scientists. In Edinburgh he exhibited at the Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland starting in 1821 and became a founding member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1826. He would continue exhibiting at the Royal Scottish Academy from 1827 through 1844. His work was described by John Murray Graham as "superior to any examples of sculptural art that had been produced in Scotland previous to his practice" (Graham 1871, 448).
While he enjoyed extensive patronage and a bisque pace of output, he struggled to make a living and in 1829 he returned to London heavily in debt. The momentum he enjoyed early in his career remained elusive in London and he only rarely sent work to Suffolk Street or the Royal Academy upon his return.
In 1830 he was commissioned for his Bust of George IV and in 1833 he executed his Bust of William Wilberforce. When it was decided to erect a posthumous monument to Wilberforce in the Westminster Abbey, Joseph was the sculptor selected for the commission. A naturalistic and highly individualistic composition that borders on caricature with a hyper-realized dramatization of his facial features. It was completed 1838 through 1840 and is widely acknowledged as his masterpiece.
In the 1840s, Joseph produced several commemorative representations including his 1843 Statue of Sir David Wilkie, R.A., a friend of his from Edinburgh, which is held in the permanent collection of the Tate Gallery. He followed this up with an exhibition of 67 busts and four sketches composed "chiefly of Eminent Scotch Characters executed during his late Residence in Edinburgh", offering a catalogue and tickets that were sold from his house.
His final exhibit was at the Royal Academy in 1846 and despite all of his efforts and talents he continued to struggle in providing an income. By 1848 he declared bankruptcy with a debt outstanding of £450 and there was a forced sale of his possessions the same year. He was provided with a pension of £30 by the Royal Academy through his death on July 1st of 1850 from cancer.
Artist Listings & Bibliography:
- A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain, 1660-1851, The Henry Moore Archive
- E. Benezit Dictionary of Artists, Vol. VII, Gründ, 2006, p. 946
Measurements: 30" H x 9" D x 21" W
Weathered overall matte surface with discoloration to the stone, more notable discoloration to the reverse of the bust across his hair and shoulders, age fissures and minor chipping.