Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Bust of Sir Robert Peel PM (1788 - 1850) 1853

John Francis 

Bust of Sir Robert Peel PM (1788 - 1850), John Francis
19th Century
Height: 27 inches 68.5 cm with red marble socle
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This commanding bust of the great statesman Sir Robert Peel was created in 1853 as a posthumous commemoration of the Conservative politician who reformed the penal laws, gave rise to the concept of a modern police force, and insured the affordability of bread for the working classes. It is possible that sculptor and sitter were introduced through Francis's early patron, the Earl of Leicester who made his acquaintance in 1815. Leicester was, for the most part, responsible for the artist's initial success in London, presenting Francis to those within his influential social and political circle. After sculpting likenesses of Lord Holland (1829), the Duke of Bedford (1832) and Lord John Russell (1833), Francis found himself noted as the unofficial sculptor of the Whig party. He also gained the patronage of William IV and the Duke of Sussex, both of whom engaged him to produce a number of small marble busts of family and political associates; examples of this work can be found at both Windsor and Buckingham Palace. Francis exhibited a range of his sculpted works at the Royal Academy between 1820 and 1857 and his success enabled him to maintain a large studio where sculptors Joseph Durham and Matthew Noble gained their training.

Sir Robert Peel began his career as Chief Secretary for Ireland at the age of 24 before being made Home Secretary a decade later. Coming from a successful industrial background, he became interested in the plight of the working classes and is often credited with helping Britain avoid the revolutionary turmoil which was sweeping through continental Europe. In 1829 as Home Secretary, Peel founded the Metropolitan Police and despite fierce opposition carried through the Catholic Relief Bill. Following the 1834 election, when Peel explained his policies to his Tamworth constituents, known as his ''Tamworth Manifesto'', he was invited to form his first administration, which lasted four months. In his second administration he reintroduced income tax and more conciliatory measures toward Ireland and finally, both on principle and under pressure of approaching famine in Ireland, repealed the Corn Laws. This decisive measure split the Conservative Party which Peel had led since 1834, and served to make him and his supporters, the Peelities, subject to attacks from the rising Conservative star Disraeli. In 1846 Peel resigned as Prime Minister claiming in a famous speech that while maintaining Tory principles, he had ameliorated the lot of the labouring classes.
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