This bust of William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield is the earliest of three known examples by famed sculptor Joseph Nollekens. Signed and dated 1779, the bust shows Lord Mansfield aged 74-year-old, wigless and cloaked in classical drapery in imitation of the antique.
A second version of the bust, dated 1790 is at Belvoir Castle and a third undated version was commission for Sir James Marriot, Judge of the Admiralty Court, for Trinity College, Cambridge, where it remains. The Kenwood bust bears Lord Masnfield’s motto ‘Uni Aequus Virtuti’ (Friendly to Virtue Alone) and was first recorded on 21 September 1781 in a description in newspapers The Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser.
Joseph Nollekens (1737–1823) was one of the most successful sculptors of the late 18th century and early 19th centuries, particularly of portrait busts and church monuments. He spent eight years in Rome from 1762 to 1770, where he worked with Bartolomeo Cavaceppi restoring and copying antique marbles. On his return to England he became the leading sculptor in London, operating a thriving and prolific workshop in London. Nollekens evidently new the first Lord Mansfield as more than a sitter, the biography written of Nollekens by his former studio assistant John Thomas Smith records an incident at Kenwood:
“Mr Nollekens was standing with the late Earl Mansfield in his lordships farmyards at Kenwood, when a little girl came up to him and presented her mother’s compliments to Farmer Mansfield, and she would be obliged to him for a jug of milk.”
According to the same biography, Dr Johnson took Mrs Hester Thrale, wife of the brewer and MP Henry Thrale, to see Lord Mansfield’s bust in Nollekens’ studio. It is unclear which version of the bust this was, as Smith gives no date for the visit but it may plausibly have been this one.
At least one copy of the Trinity College bust in black basalt was made by the Holborn sculptor Robert Shout, while on a smaller scale, the Scottish gem engraver and modeller James Tassie made two glass-paste medallions in profile of Lord Mansfield based on the Nollekens bust.
Overlooking London’s Hampstead Heath since the early 17th century, Kenwood House was transformed in the 18th century into a grand neoclassical villa. Now restored to its Georgian splendour, Kenwood is home to a world-famous art collection.