Portrait Sculpture

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Presence: The Art of Portrait Sculpture
Admission £6.95 / concessions

What the critics have said about Presence: the art of portrait sculpture
“wonderfully vivid and ambitious” The Times
“terrific, original and inventive” The Observer
“exhilarating” The Independent

Read Laura Cumming’s review for the Observer here>>

This original and inventive exhibition brings together some of the most striking sculpted portraits from the ancient world to the modern day. The first exhibition of sculpture to be held at Bath’s transformed Holburne Museum, Presence: the Art of Portrait Sculpture includes astonishing heads from Ancient Greece and Rome; eighteenth century masterpieces; works by some of the 20th century’s greatest sculptors including Giacometti and Brancusi, the waxwork of Henry Moore once at Madame Tussauds and sculptures by such major contemporary artists as Marc Quinn, Daphne Wright, Don Brown and Ron Mueck.

With exceptionally generous and important loans from the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and Tate, as well as from regional and private collections the exhibition collects together many supreme examples of the sculptor’s art to explore the often troubling power of the sculpted portrait. The exhibition considers the ways in which sculptors have exploited this potency to make the absent present or the dead seem alive; from the mummy masks of ancient Egypt (on loan from the British Museum) to the extraordinary death mask of the painter Thomas Lawrence, cast with the sheet and pillow of his death bed (from the National Portrait Gallery collection).

The show explores questions of scale and colour through miniature portraits in wax and ivory and Ron Mueck’s characteristically mesmerising and monumental Self Portrait Mask II. Above all, it explores the sense of presence behind the portrait sculpture which gives it its power to arrest, disturb and move the viewer. Perhaps the most moving of all the works in the show is the desperately touching ceramic portrait of the small dead girl, Lydia Dwight, (1674, V&A collection) cast by her father in the white glazed stoneware technique that he had invented.

Through thought-provoking juxtaposition the exhibition explores the tensions in sculpted portraiture between realism, idealism and abstraction – a tension exemplified in the splendidly paradoxical waxwork by Karen Newman, for Madame Tussauds of Henry Moore, a sculptor whose own ideas of sculpture completely rejected, ‘the second-hand life of realistic waxworks’.

Striking pairings include Brancusi’s abstracted and eyeless Danaide alongside a late Giacometti bust of his brother Diego in which his staring head seems to exemplify Giacometti’s concentration on the sitter’s gaze: if I can hold the look in the eyes everything else follows. At the heart of these pairings are three exceptional antique heads from the British Museum, including the rare and astonishingly vivid Greek bronze head, probably of a charioteer, from about 300BC and the striking head of a North African carved in green siltstone in the 1st century BC.

The exhibition explores its themes through many of the finest portrait sculptures in the country, drawing attention to the supreme achievements of eighteenth-century – bringing together, for example, the two exquisite busts of the Earl of Chesterfield by Joseph Wilton (1757, British Museum) and Roubilliac (1745, National Portrait Gallery), while also drawing attention to important contemporary artists, Don Brown, Daphne Wright, Marc Quinn and Ron Mueck, who continue to exploit the power of the sculpted portrait.

Presence: The Art of Portrait Sculpture, by Alexander Sturgis curator of the exhibition and Director of the Holburne Museum, will be published by The Antique Collectors’ Club in May.
Presence (£15) 9781851496853. For more information about the book please visit www.accpublishinggroup.com or contactclara.heard@antique-acc.com

You can also find details of a Bath sculpture trail here>>


Roper Gallery


Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm
Sunday and Bank Holiday 11am to 5pm


£6.95 | concessions