Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait Bust of Charles James Fox 1749-1806 1807

Joseph Francis Nollekens RA, Studio of 1737 - 1828

Portrait Bust of Charles James Fox 1749-1806, Joseph Francis Nollekens RA, Studio of
19th Century
18 1/2 47 cm inches high
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This bust derives from Fox's last sitting to Nollekens two years before his death in 1806. 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.

A later type 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 Fitegerald 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.

In addition to these advantages, Fox was undeniably gifted with one of the most agile minds of his age and with an exceptionally winning personality. Only an addiction to gambling, which resulted in vast debts that his father paid unhesitatingly, hinted at the dissipation that would haunt him for the rest of his life. Unlike the shambling figure that would later be caricatured by Gillray Fox in his youth had once been known as one of London''s foremost macaronis.

These convivial qualities never left Fox, and the allies who commissioned portrait busts of him where his friends and dinner companions as well as his political disciples. It is appropriate and fitting the very different nature of the two men that Pitt''s bust should derive from a death mask and that Fox's should be the result of life sittings. This access to Fox's personality has enabled Nollekens to project suggest such irresistible conviviality and humour in his portraits. The memory of the man himself, as much as his credo, guaranteed a demand for bust portraits of him in the generation immediately after his death.
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