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Cast of the bust of William Shakespeare on his monument in the church at Stratford-on-Avon, plaster

Museum number: SC18

Curatorial note

This cast was taken by George Bullock. On the verso in relief in the plaster is the inscription: Moulded by Geo. Bullock / from the original / in the Church / at / Stratford / Dec. 1814.

George Bullock (1778 – 1818) began his career as a sculptor but later established an important furnishing and cabinetmaking business first in Liverpool then in London. For a short while, from April 1808 he was in partnership in Liverpool with Joseph Gandy who had previously worked for Soane and in whose office John Soane junior was at the time a trainee. It was the antiquarian John Britton who prevailed upon Bullock to make a mould from the Shakespeare Monument at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1814. The exercise took longer than Bullock had anticipated but he wrote to Britton that he was pleased to give up the time from ‘my London affairs’ because he believed the bust to be an extremely accurate likeness of the Bard, having perceived ‘evident signs of its being taken from a cast’, by which he presumably meant a life or death mask. Like many of his contemporaries Bullock and Britton had a great interest in Shakespeare’s physiognomy and Bullock even invited Dr. J. C. Spurzheim, one of the founders of the theory of phrenology, to view the bust over breakfast shortly after his return from Stratford. In 1816 Britton published a pamphlet, a copy of which is in Soane’s library entitled Remarks on the Monumental Bust of Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon, defending the likeness.

Soane owned two other busts of Shakespeare (L62 and SC68) and some twenty paintings and drawings of Shakespearian subjects. In addition he acquired the first four folios of Shakespeare’s works published in 1623, 1632, 1664 and 1685. This bust was placed by Soane in the Shakespeare Recess, a niche off the staircase intended as a shrine to the Bard, whom Soane evidently revered. It was cleaned in 1990 and repainted in its original pale stone colour. This painted surface was then re-done in 2011-12 by Taylor Pearce Restoration when a major restoration of the Shakespeare Recess was carried out.


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