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image M303
Bust of John Kemble. SM M303. Photograph taken in December 1947. ©A.C. Cooper (Colour) Ltd

John Gibson, sculptor

Bust of John Philip Kemble


Height: 45.7cm
Width: 35.6cm
Depth: 12.5cm

Museum number: M303

Curatorial note

Kemble, the great tragedian, is shown in Roman costume, head turned slightly to the right, on a rectangular base with sunk band in front. There is some severity of outline, particularly of the face which suggests a classical influence. The hair is barely modelled on the top or the back of the head and the face is very smooth and strong in aspect. On the back of the bust is lettering, rather illegible in parts, that clearly says ‘Kemble’ in capital letters and 'J. Gibson', possibly with the date. John Gibson was introduced to Kemble through Solomon d’Anguiler of Liverpool some time before 1817 when Gibson left Liverpool for London. It seems that many casts were made for Kemble’s admirers.

Soane saw Kemble and his sister Sarah Siddons, whose life mask (M466) is also in the collection, act in celebrated performances and attended Kemble’s farewell dinner on leaving the stage. Soane also acquired Kemble’s copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare.

This bust is displayed in Soane's Museum as part of an arrangement on the central table in the Basement Ante Room. It sits between two busts of imperial Romans – perhaps a reference to Kemble's fame as an interpreter of the roles of great Romans, such as Cato in Joseph Addison's play of the same name and Coriolanus in Kemble's own adaptation of Shakespeare's play of that name.

Provenance help-art-provenance

The work is not mentioned in the 1835 edition of the Description of Soane's house but is listed in the inventory of 1837. It therefore appears to have entered the collection c.1835-1837.

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