Tassie, William (DNB00)

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TASSIE, WILLIAM (1777–1860), modeller, born in London in 1777, was the son of David Tassie, a younger brother of James Tassie [q. v.], the modeller. On the death of his uncle James in 1799 he succeeded to his property, and continued to carry on his business at No. 20 Leicester Square. He began to add to James Tassie's collection of reproductions of gems and medals, and furnished additional casts to the imperial collection of Russia. His seals and gems in composition paste, inscribed with original mottoes and devices, were especially popular, and he published a ‘Descriptive Catalogue’ of them in 1816 (2nd ed. 1820). Another catalogue of his impressions from gems, &c., was published in 1830. His collection of intaglio and cameo impressions in enamel, sulphur, or paste was enormously added to during the forty years that he was in business, and at last consisted of more than twenty thousand specimens. Among the gems were many originals (by Marchant, Burch, and other artists employed by Tassie) of contemporary notabilities, including Napoleon, Nelson, and Lady Hamilton. His collection had a world-wide fame. In 1822 (22 March) Shelley wrote to Thomas Love Peacock to procure for him ‘two pounds worth of Tassie's gems.’

Tassie also modelled portrait-medallions in wax and cast them in the white enamel paste used by James Tassie, but his work has not the ease and precision of his uncle's. A medallion of James Tassie and one of Professor Robert Freer are cited by Gray as favourable examples of his work (see also the medallions in the catalogue in Gray's Tassie, pp. 81–170). He executed a set of twelve medallions of the Passions, signed ‘W. T.’ In 1840 Tassie retired from his prosperous business, which was thenceforth carried on by his partner John Wilson, an artist who entered Tassie's employment about 1827, and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1824–56. Tassie settled at 8 Upper Phillimore Place, Kensington, where he died, unmarried on 26 Oct. 1860. He was buried in Brompton cemetery.

Tassie was a kindly, cultivated man, and his studio in Leicester Square was a sort of lounge for artists and literary men, including Moore and Byron. A wax medallion-portrait of Tassie, by T. Hagbolt (circa 1833), passed into the possession of his great-nephew, Prebendary Vernon, and is reproduced in Gray's ‘Tassie’ (p. 60).

On 28 Jan. 1805 Tassie won, by a ticket which he had purchased out of kindness from a poor artist, the chief prize in the Boydell lottery, consisting of the Shakespeare gallery, pictures, and estate. He made a present to the artist and sold the whole property by auction in May 1805. The works of art realised more than 6,180l. (Wheatley, London Past and Present, British Institution). By his will, Tassie left a large collection of the moulds and impressions of gems executed by his uncle and himself to the board of manufactures, Edinburgh, together with various pictures. The items of this bequest are now exhibited in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and in the National Gallery of Scotland. Another portion of his collection passed into the possession of his nephew, William Hardy Vernon, who in early life had been in partnership with him; Vernon, who himself cut a beautiful intaglio of the heads of Milton and of Byron, for each of which Murray gave the artist 10l., died vicar of Wootton, Bedfordshire, in November 1880, aged 85. Part of this collection was sold at Wootton in February 1881. The remainder was sold at Christie's in April 1882. Many of the large Tassie medallions were included in the Shadford Walker sale in 1882.

[Gray's James and William Tassie.]

W. W.