Roubiliac, Louis François (DNB00)
|←Rothwell, Richard||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 49
Roubiliac, Louis François
ROUBILIAC or ROUBILLAC, LOUIS FRANÇOIS (1695–1762), sculptor, was born at Lyons in 1695. He is said to have studied under Nicolas Coustou, and was subsequently a pupil of Balthazar, sculptor to the elector of Saxony. He is sometimes alleged to have migrated to this country as early as 1720; but as he is not definitely heard of in England until 1738, and as he gained a second Grand Prix from the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture at Paris in 1730, it is probable that his permanent settlement here is subsequent to the last-named date. According to Northcote (Life of Reynolds, 1813, p. 29), his first employment in England was with Thomas Carter of Knightsbridge, whose work was chiefly monumental, and who perhaps made use of his French assistant as a ‘botcher of antiques.’ Soon after he was lucky enough to find in Vauxhall Gardens (not opened until 1732) a valuable pocket-book belonging to Horace Walpole's brother Edward, who subsequently became his patron and protector (ib.) By Edward Walpole he was introduced to Cheere (afterwards Sir Henry), who had at Hyde Park Corner a famous stone-yard of statues and leaden figures for gardens, which is often mentioned in eighteenth-century literature, e.g. in Robert Lloyd's ‘Cit's Country Box’ and Garrick and Colman's ‘Clandestine Marriage.’ What stay Roubiliac made with Cheere is unknown; but it seems to have been Cheere who recommended him to Jonathan Tyers [q. v.] of Vauxhall, then engaged in decorating the gardens with pictures and statues, as a fitting person to carve a statue of Handel. This, for which Tyers paid 300l., was erected in May 1738, and for many years was the chief glory of the popular pleasure-ground by the Thames. After many vicissitudes it finally found its way into the collection of Mr. Alfred H. Littleton, formerly of No. 1 Berners Street. The model, which once belonged to Nollekens, was last in the possession of Hamlet the silversmith. For Tyers Roubiliac also executed a Milton in lead, ‘seated on a rock, in an attitude listening to soft music,’ as he is described in ‘Il Penseroso.’
Before the Handel was carved, Roubiliac must have set up for himself, for he is represented in the journals of the day as engaged upon the work in his own studio at St. Peter's Court, St. Martin's Lane, the room afterwards occupied by the St. Martin's Lane Academy. What were Roubiliac's next works is exceedingly doubtful. Edward Walpole is said by Horace Walpole (Anecdotes of Painting, ed. Dallaway, 1828, iv. 192) to have recommended him for half the busts at Trinity College, Dublin, and he certainly did a bust of Swift which is copied as the frontispiece to Dr. Craik's biography, and is mentioned in Wilde's ‘Closing Years of Dean Swift's Life’ (1849, p. 87) as having been executed in 1745. He also did for Bolingbroke in 1741 a bust of Pope, the clay model of which belongs to Mr. Hallam Murray of Newstead, Wimbledon, and the finished marble of which had in 1848 passed into the possession of Sir Robert Peel, who in that year purchased at the Stowe sale (Illustrated London News, 26 Aug.) another bust of Prior, reputed to be by the same sculptor. To this period may therefore belong the busts of Chesterfield, Bentley, Mead, Folkes, Willoughby, and Ray, the models and casts of which, now in the glass and ceramic gallery of the British Museum, were presented to that institution, soon after Roubiliac's death, by Chesterfield's biographer, Dr. Matthew Maty [q. v.] Six of the finished marbles from these are now in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge; and some of the others presented to Pope by Frederick, prince of Wales, were bequeathed by the poet to Lord Lyttelton. Roubiliac's first definite monumental work, however, belongs to 1743, being the tomb of John Campbell, second duke of Argyll, in the south transept of Westminster Abbey, a commission also attributable to Edward Walpole, and notable for a much-praised figure of ‘Eloquence.’ Other monuments followed: to Marshal Wade, to General Fleming, and to General Hargrave—personages, as Goldsmith hints (Citizen of the World, Letter cix), not wholly deserving of the elaborate mural medleys compiled in their memory. The next datable record of Roubiliac's work is the monument in 1751 to Henry Chichele, founder of All Souls', Oxford.
Of personal records there are but few, and those doubtful. In June 1750 Tyers lent him 20l. (Smith, Nollekens, 1828, ii. 94). This looks as if he were needy, unless the fact that in this same year (31 March) he had been robbed in Dean Street, Soho (Wheatley, London, 1891, i. 493), can be held to account for his necessity. Then, in January 1752, his marriage was reported in the ‘General Advertiser’ and other papers to Miss Crosby of Deptford, ‘a celebrated beauty,’ with 10,000l. But, beyond this announcement, which is repeated by Fielding in the ‘Covent Garden Journal’ for 11 Jan. 1752, there seems to be no further reference whatever to the circumstances. Moreover, late in the same year Roubiliac was travelling alone in Italy, for in October Reynolds met him with Pond and Hudson, making his first expedition to Rome, where he found little to admire in ancient sculpture, and frankly preferred the moderns. By the work of Bernini, indeed, he seems to have been profoundly impressed. All he had done previously, he told Reynolds, after a reinspection on his return of his own efforts in Westminster Abbey, seemed ‘meagre and starved, as if made of nothing but tobacco pipes’ (Northcote, Reynolds, 1813, p. 44).In 1753 Roubiliac completed another great sepulchral trophy in Westminster Abbey to Admiral Sir Peter Warren. The next important statue he executed was the full-length of Shakespeare (1758), now in the entrance hall of the British Museum. This was a commission from Garrick, who placed it in a special temple at Hampton, and gave the sculptor 315l. After the Shakespeare came a second statue of Handel, now above his grave in Poet's Corner; but what is perhaps Roubiliac's most popular effort belongs to 1761. This is the famous Nightingale monument at Westminster, where a fleshless and shrouded Death menaces with his dart the figure of a young wife who is sinking in her husband's arms. Besides these, there are many scattered works which it is not always easy to date. At Trinity College, Cambridge, is his celebrated statue of Newton (1755)—
With his prism and silent face,
The marble index of a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone—
which Wordsworth (from whose ‘Prelude’ the lines are taken) used to watch on moonlight nights from his window at St. John's; and in Worcester Cathedral there are notable monuments to Bishops Hough and Hurd. In the church of Walton-on-Thames is a monument to Richard Boyle, second lord Shannon, who died in 1740, and there are many scattered busts, e.g. Mead (College of Physicians), Hogarth (National Portrait Gallery), Garrick (Garrick Club), Handel (Foundling Hospital), Wilton (Royal Academy), and so forth. But the Nightingale monument must have been practically his last work, for on 11 Jan. 1762 he died, and was buried four days later in St. Martin's churchyard, ‘under the window of the Bell Bagnio.’ His funeral was attended by Hogarth, Reynolds, Hayman, and the leading members of the St. Martin's Lane Academy. Although he must have had a fair amount of work, he died poor, and his effects, when all needful expenses were discharged, produced to his creditors no more than eighteenpence in the pound (Smith, 'Nollekens, 1828, ii. 99).
Roubiliac is said to have been a friendly, loquacious, gesticulating little man, who never shook off, even after long residence in England, his characteristics as a foreigner. He sometimes dabbled in verse (French, of course), a specimen of which is to be found in the ‘St. James's Chronicle’ for 1761. He was well known to the artist community of St. Martin's Lane, and was an habitué of Old Slaughter's and cognate houses of call. Several anecdotes of him are related in Smith's ‘Nollekens’ (pp. 89–99). As a sculptor he bears the stamp of his French training in a certain restless and theatric treatment of his subjects. But although his style is mannered and somewhat affected, it is also full of grace, spirit, and refinement. Character rather than beauty seems to have been his aim, and his busts from the life or masks are his best, e.g. Pope, Mead, Hogarth (though Hogarth is a little gallicised). Of his sepulchral efforts the monuments to the Duke of Argyll and the Nightingales are most notable; of his statues, the Newton at Cambridge has perhaps the largest number of admirers.
A portrait of Roubiliac by his Swiss friend, Adrien Carpentiers, was exhibited in the Spring Garden exhibition of 9 May 1761, and is now in the National Portrait Gallery London. This was engraved in mezzotint, in 1765, by David Martin. The same exhibition also contained a portrait of Roubiliac by himself, described as his ‘first attempt’ in oil (afterwards, according to Walpole, in the possession of Mr. Smith of Crown Court, Westminster), and there was also a bust of him by Wilton, the mask of which was sold at Wilton's sale (ib. ii. 184).[The chief authority for Roubiliac's life is the rare Vie et Ouvrages de L. F. Roubiliac, Sculpteur Lyonnais, 1882, by Le Roy de Sainte-Croix, who died in the year of its publication. There is a copy in the Art Library at South Kensington. Among other sources of information are Northcote's Reynolds, Hill's Boswell, Forster's Goldsmith, Redgrave, and Allan Cunningham.]