George Frederick Handel, (1685-1759)
XQG 2004 GIII 252
XQG 1974 GIII 48
XQG 2005 Treas
George III admired the music of Handel (1685-1759) above that of all other composers. Although there were long-standing links between Handel and the King’s family - he was appointed Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover (the future George I) in 1710, and Composer to the Chapel Royal in London in 1723 - George III’s fervour was no mere endorsement of these existing associations. When Prince of Wales he had often met the great composer, and Handel himself is said to have remarked of the young Prince: ‘While that boy lives, my music will never want a protector’.
The King was a prime mover in the Handel Commemoration at Westminster Abbey in 1784, and his enthusiasm ensured that Handel became in some sense the ‘court composer in perpetuity’ of the British monarchy; portraits, reliefs or busts of him (though apparently not this one) were placed on brackets above organs and harpsichords at Buckingham House, Windsor and Brighton until well into the nineteenth century.
Roubiliac was born in Lyons in 1702. Little is known of his early life, but his artistic training may have been partly undertaken at Dresden. He won the second prize for sculpture at the Académie Royale in Paris in 1730, and had settled in London by the end of that year. He made at least four portraits of Handel. The earliest was the sculptor’s first great success, the life-size statue commissioned for Vauxhall Gardens in 1738 (London, Victoria and Albert Museum), and the last was the composer’s monument in Westminster Abbey, unveiled in 1762. The present bust belongs to a group of contemporary portraits by Roubiliac in which male sitters are shown in the style known as en negligé. The tasselled cap and heavy cloak with tasselled buttonholes may not have been Handel’s, since they also appear - similarly disarranged - on Roubiliac’s bust of Isaac Ware dated 1741 (Detroit Institute of Arts; version London, National Portrait Gallery). The bust was given to George III - together with a harpsichord and the majority of the composer’s manuscripts - by J.C. Smith the Younger (1712-95), the composer, organist and conductor, who had been Handel’s pupil and his amanuensis during the years of his blindness from 1752. It is probably this bust that was seen by Horace Walpole in the King’s Apartments at Buckingham House in 1783. Handel’s manuscripts were presented to the British Museum (now British Library) by Her Majesty The Queen in 1957.
Catalogue entry adapted from George III & Queen Charlotte: Patronage, Collecting and Court Taste, London, 2004