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Louis François Roubiliac, Alexander Pope, ca. 1760, marble, private collection

Louis François Roubiliac, Alexander Pope, ca. 1760, marble, private collection

The latest exhibition, Fame and Friendship: Pope, Roubiliac, and the Portrait Bust in the Eighteenth-Century, at the Yale Center for British Art is a collaboration with the Waddesdon Manor. It presents Alexander Pope, one of the earliest celebrity artists. On display are paintings and printed texts highlighting Pope’s fame as a writer during the 18th Century. The exhibition also features 8 sculpted portraits by Louis François Roubiliac. The traveling exhibit is curated by Malcom Baker, Distinguished Professor of the History of Art at the University of California, Riverside, and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Tying everything together are two important words; Fame & Friendship. During the 18th Century artists were beginning to be celebrated for their creative abilities. However, unlike the famous figures of today Roubiliac and Pope’s fame comes from originality and bravery. Pope’s boldness can be seen in his writing as he often went against the standard poetry style people were use to. According to Baker, Pope can also be considered one of the first independent authors who accepted no patronage like other writers during that period. This allowed him to take control of how is art was published and presented. One can only assume that this daring attitude is what allowed him to become a household name. You can see Pope’s personal touch in his publications featured throughout the exhibition. 

Like Pope, Roubiliac also decided to take control of his art. Baker states, “Roubiliac presented himself as an artist, not a tradesman.” You can see this declaration as you look closely at the many sculptors of Pope that were created in a nontraditional way. While each look quite similar there are many subtle details that prove Roubiliac was certainly not just doing this for work. It is no wonder that Roubiliac is considered one of the most prominent sculptors of his time. 

The friendly touch throughout the exhibition is achieved by the expression on Pope’s face. Usually sculptures are to be admired from a distance or in public. Though one might believe Pope’s face is very stoic, if you look closely there is a touch of personality in each piece unlike any other. The exhibition states, “Although Roubiliac’s bust of Pope has these public associations, its unusual intensity of expression assumes more private and intimate viewing, probably by the poet’s friends.”

Upon leaving I was asked jokingly, “What would it mean to you if I had a sculpture of you in my home?” I replied, “We are good friends.”

Visit the Yale Center for British Art online for more details.

Stephen Grant is the Communications Manager at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven

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