Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait Bust of Charles James Fox (1749 - 1806) 1807

Joseph Francis Nollekens RA 1737 - 1823

Portrait Bust of Charles James Fox (1749 - 1806), Joseph Francis Nollekens RA
18th Century
22 inches 57.2 cm high
The Collection of a Private Corporation
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Nollekens produced his first bust of Fox in 1791 (The Hermitage), a magnificently Baroque piece which showed the politician in a short if unruly wig in the conventional late eighteenth century manner. The later type which this bust represents produced, for example, for the Duke of Bedford (Woburn Abbey) from sittings in 1801 shows Fox in a toga and with short, Roman hair. These ''Roman'' busts are of two types, distinguished by the presence or otherwise of a toga, draping the figure's truncated bust. The undraped type, as with this example, derives from a further sitting to Nollekens in 1804. It is represented by the bust in the National Portrait Gallery, carved in 1805 for William Smith MP, a friend and adherent of Fox. Fox was initially reluctant to sit for a further bust after the most recent portrait of 1801, and he wrote to Smith on November 29th 1804: ''I can let Nollekens have one sitting, but I own I think the Bust he has done is so good & meets with such universal approbation, that it is a pity to have it altered in the slightest degree.''

The differences in the present undraped type from that of 1801 are accordingly slight, although the impact of fresh observation can be detected. It is important to recognise - as contemporaries would have done - that the short hair was more than a mere nod to the convention of classical sculpture. When a man actually roman-cut his hair at this date - as Fox's cousin Lord Edward Fitzgerald had begun to do in the 1790s - it was a bold and inflammatory gesture that signalled sympathy with continental revolutionaries and Republicanism. Such a self-advertisingly populist fashion was quite applicable to Fox by this stage in his career when the Tories pilloried him as the dupe of French sansculottes.

Charles James Fox is a figure so titanic in an understanding of late eighteenth century politics, that the observer might be forgiven for imagining that he had been Prime Minister or at the very least that he had regularly held the highest offices. This could not be further from the truth, and with the exception of a brief period as Foreign Secretary, significant position eluded him. He remains a figure of such note, however, for particular reasons of his genius and, it must be said, of his birth. He was placed in the very heart of the Whig establishment as the son of the brilliant Henry Fox Lord Holland, Paymaster General of the Forces and Minister to King George II and Lady Caroline Lennox, daughter of the second Duke of Richmond. By the time that he came of age, in addition to the alliances and interests that his father had husbanded in his behalf, his uncle was the third Duke of Richmond, a political ally and the disposer of immense patronage.
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