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  • image BR23
Bust of William Hayley (1745-1820). SM BR23. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photo: Lewis Bush

John Flaxman (1755 - 1826), sculptor

Bust of the poet and biographer William Hayley (1745-1820)


Museum number: BR23

Curatorial note

William Hayley (1745-1820) was a literary celebrity of his age. His poetical essay Triumphs of Temper (1781) went to 14 editions and in 1790 he refused the post of Poet Laureate. Hayley addressed his Essay on Sculpture (1800) to John Flaxman (his illegitimate son, Thomas Alphonso Hayley was a pupil of Flaxman). This small model is perhaps related to the marble bust made by Flaxman (together with a bust of the painter George Romney) for Hayley’s house at Eartham, Sussex, c.1781.

There is also a reference that might be to this object in a letter from William Hayley to the poet Anna Seward dated 3rd October 1784 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Hayley.XII.43). He writes that Flaxman and Romney have been visiting him and that as well as supervising the "the putting up of our new chimney piece ... [Flaxman] called forth from a Lump of black Clay a very striking resemblance of yr humble servant - we are no judges of our own Likeness, but the Bust appears to me a marvellous Imitation of Life & Romney, for whom it is modelled, has pronounced a very high & decisive Encomium on the Success of the Artist." If the clay (terracotta) bust mentioned in this letter is this one then it appears that although Hayley says it was modelled for the painter George Romney, Flaxman never gave it to him, since Soane acquired it with the two others BR21 and BR22 from the sculptor's sister-in-law Maria Denman in October 1836.

We are grateful to Dr Lisa Gee for alerting us to the refence in the Hayley correspondence at the Fitzwilliam and providing us with the details

Provenance help-art-provenance

Acquired from Flaxman's sister-in-law Maria Denman in October 1836


Helen Dorey ‘Soane and Flaxman’ in Flaxman: Master of the Purest Line, Exhibition Catalogue, Sir John Soane’s Museum 2003, p.31, 34 and p.35 f.n.55

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk