The acquisition of three exquisite marble busts from the early 19th century, Three Daughters of Richard Bingham, Lord Lucan, brings the name of the renowned Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, one of the handful of truly great neoclassical artists, into the Gallery’s collection for the first time. The sculptures are portraits of daughters of one of Thorvaldsen’s most important patrons, Richard Bingham, second Earl of Lucan.
Thorvaldsen was the son of a woodcarver of Icelandic origin. He entered the Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen at the precocious age of eleven. In 1797, he won a stipend to study in Rome, where the cultural landscape was then dominated by Antonio Canova (1757–1822), the most famous living artist in Europe. No sculptor at that time escaped Canova’s influence, and Thorvaldsen’s early concept for a gigantic, classicizing plaster statue of the mythical hero Jason showed that he could not resist Canova’s magic either. Canova’s partisans, who were largely French and Italian, promoted the misty sensuality of the Italian sculptor’s art. Thorvaldsen’s defenders, who were primarily German and Scandinavian, instead would praise the Danish artist’s frankness and reticent naturalism.
In 1803, Thomas Hope, the eminent British collector of classical antiquities, commissioned the colossal Jason in marble, enabling the otherwise penniless Thorvaldsen to remain in Rome. The Dane’s subsequent success is demonstrated by numerous commissions for huge equestrian and funerary monuments, as well as the Lion of Lucerne for a Swiss mountainside and architectural reliefs for the Quirinal Palace in Rome, Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, and the Villa Carlotta near Lugano. Thorvaldsen established his own museum in his native Copenhagen—the first public museum in Denmark. Most of his plaster models, dozens of drawings, marble sculptures, his collection of antiquities and paintings, and his archive are preserved there.
Lord Lucan commissioned the first marble examples of Thorvaldsen’s reliefs Night and Day, which were replicated in more than a dozen examples during Thorvaldsen’s lifetime. Lord Lucan also ordered the first marble example of Thorvaldsen’s Triumphant Venus, and he bought the Standing Baptismal Angel, originally created for the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen (now in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm).
Although Lord Lucan was said to have considered commissioning portraits of his wife and three of his four daughters, Thorvaldsen’s account books list only the busts of the "older (la maggiore) Lady Lucan" and the "younger (la minore) Lady Lucan." A third bust, recorded as "Madame Vernot" and perhaps ordered separately, must portray Bingham’s eldest daughter Elizabeth, whose married name was Vernon. The plaster model for it and for another bust that corresponds to the marble one identified here as Louisa Bingham Elcho are both in the collection in Thorvaldsens Museum. The busts apparently remained with the Bingham family for more than a century: when they appeared at auction in 1999, the seller attested that his father had bought them from Lord Lucan in the 1960s, which is when, coincidentally, the seventh earl succeeded to the title.
Marks and Labels
Commissioned 1816/1817 by Richard Bingham, 2nd earl of Lucan [1764-1839]; by descent in the family to his great-great-great grandson, Richard John Bingham, 7th earl of Lucan, who inherited the title in 1964 [1934-after 1974]; sold to a private collector, England; by inheritance to his son; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 6 July 1999, no. 70); private collection; consigned to (Daxer & Marschall, Munich); purchased 2000 by (Rainer Zietz Ltd., London) in partnership with (Daniel Katz Gallery, London); purchased 30 November 2011 by NGA.
- Sass, Else Kai. Thorvaldsens Portraetbuster. 3 vols. Copenhagen, 1963-1965: 1(1963):368-384, 3(1965): 78 nos. 84-86, 168-169 nn. 619-669.