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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Louis-François Roubiliac (1702–1762)

Sculptor, born in Lyon. His father, a merchant, was a Catholic, who later converted to Protestantism, and took his family to live in the Huguenot community in Frankfurt. In 1719 the family moved again to Dresden. Here, the young Louis-François probably trained under the French-born François Coudray (c.1678–1727) and the Bavarian-born Balthasar Permoser (1651–1732). An interesting report has it that he spent time in Liège in Belgium, but there is no documentary evidence to support this claim. It was probably in 1727 that  Roubiliac left for Paris, where he continued his training under sculptors associated with the Académie Royale, including Nicolas Coustou (1658–1733). In 1730, he won a second prize in the Académie’s sculpture competition, before moving to London, where he had established himself by the end of that year. In England he joined the Freemasons and established links with the Huguenot community. Amongst the latter were useful contacts in the world of the decorative arts, in particular the entrepreneurial designer and modeller Nicolas Sprimont (1716–1771), one of the founders of the Chelsea porcelain factory. During the 1730s he worked under established sculptors, in particular Henry Cheere. With his terracotta bust of the celebrated castrato, Senesino (1735; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), he gave the first indication of his powers as a portrait sculptor. Through contacts in the St Martin’s Lane Circle, he obtained the commission for a marble statue of the composer Handel, seated and holding a lyre, for Vauxhall Gardens (now in Victoria and Albert Museum, London), completed to critical acclaim in April 1738. In the same year, he modelled a figure described in one place as ‘a curious figure of a lady’ and in another as a ‘fine Venus’ for the collector and leading Hanoverian courtier, Andrew Fountaine. It was recorded that in preparation for this now lost figure, a female model had posed for him for nine hours. Roubiliac’s first important funerary monument produced under his own name was that of Bishop Hough in Worcester Cathedral (1746). It was only with the monument to the Duke of Argyll (1745–49) for Westminster Abbey that the full force of his dramatic late baroque style was revealed. Here Roubiliac was seen to have surpassed his continental rivals in the field, P. Scheemakers and J.M. Rysbrack. The Argyll was followed by other commissions for monuments in the Abbey and elsewhere. Roubiliac’s most ambitious church monuments outside London are to be found at Warkton, Northants.; Wrexham, Clwyd; and Walton-on-Thames, Surrey. In 1752, he went with a group of artists to Rome, where he is said to have exclaimed that the sculpture of Bernini made his own look ‘meagre and starved, as if made of nothing but tobacco pipes’. He produced numerous busts of historical and contemporary subjects. His non-funerary portrait statues include the standing figure of Isaac Newton (marble, 1755, Trinity College, Cambridge), and one of Shakespeare, executed for the actor David Garrick’s villa at Hampton (marble, 1756, British Library, London). Roubiliac’s career ended as it had begun, with a statue of Handel. His monument to the composer in Westminster Abbey shows him holding a score with the opening phrases of the aria ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’, from Messiah, whilst listening to music played by an angelic harpist.

Bibliography: M. Baker, ‘Sculpting reputation: a terracotta bust of Senesino by Roubiliac’, Metropolitan Museum Journal, 57, (2022), pp. 26–39;  D. Bindman and M. Baker, Roubiliac and the Eighteenth-Century Monument, New Haven and London, 1995; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Leicestershire and Rutland, Liverpool, 2000, pp. 184–87; R. Cocke, Public Sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk, Liverpool, 2013, pp. 268–69; D.A. Cross, Public Sculpture of Lancashire and Cumbria, Liverpool, 2017, p. 72; F. Lloyd et al, Public Sculpture of Outer South and West London, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 242–43; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Edinburgh (2 vols), Liverpool, 2018, vol. 1, pp. 339–43; T. Murdoch and S. Robinson, ‘Roubiliac and Sprimont: a friendship revisited’, Burlington Magazine, 163, June, 2023, pp. 600–11; G.T. Noszlopy and F. Waterhouse, Public Sculpture of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire, Liverpool, 2010, pp. 239–41; G.T. Noszlopy and F. Waterhouse, Public Sculpture of Staffordshire and the Black Country, Liverpool, 2005, pp. 112–14; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 215–17, 240–41; M. Whinney, Sculpture in Britain 1530–1830, rev. J. Physick, London, 1988.

Philip Ward-Jackson October 2023

Roubiliac, Louis-François

Andrea Soldi, Louis-François Roubiliac, oil on canvas, 1751, Dulwich Picture Gallery (photo: public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). The sculptor is working on what may be an early terracotta model for the ‘Charity’ group destined for the Monument to John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu, St Edmund’s Church, Warkton, Northamptonshire (Bindman and Baker, 1995, pp. 125, 227, 304).