Category Archives: Getty

Bust of a Man, the Sequel- Bill Richmond Strikes Back

Bust of a Man, the Sequel- Bill Richmond Strikes Back

  “There are some things you can’t cover up with lipstick and powder…”

Elvis Costello

“They call it the rope-a-dope. Well, I’m the dope. Ali just laid on the rope and I, like a dope, kept punching until I got tired. But he was probably the most smart fighter I’ve ever gotten into the ring with.”

George Foreman

Author’s note 11/13/14: The Getty website has removed references to Northamptonshire.

Bill Richmond (1763?-1829) made his name as a boxer nicknamed “The Black Terror” but he was much more than that. As a boxer and a boxing instructor in England he invented defensive boxing or at least brought it to the professional ring.[i] Before Bill Richmond, boxing was a sport of offense where large brutal white men would go at each other bare fisted until one died, or at least could not continue the fight. Bill Richmond’s style of laying back and taking punches to tire out an opponent was taunted as unmanly; but it allowed his much smaller frame to defeat larger opponents. After Bill Richmond, boxing became the “sweet science” where tact mattered almost as much as strength. But Bill Richmond was much more than even that.

 

I have touched on the incredible life of Bill Richmond in my pieces located here http://idiscoveredamerica.com/?p=52 and here http://idiscoveredamerica.com/?p=149 and here http://idiscoveredamerica.com/?p=94. I have suggested that the sculpture known as Bust of a Man located at the Yale Center for British Art may be a sculpture of Bill Richmond as a young adult and the similar work located at the Getty Museum is a worthy copy. Neither the Getty nor the YCBA agrees with my assessment of their sculptures and recently the Getty has “conserved” its Bust of a Man obfuscating any inquiry into the truth of the work. The purpose of this piece is not to rehash my arguments but to explain why they are important.

 

Bill Richmond was born a slave in America, although facts about his childhood as a black slave in the mid-18th century are naturally uncertain. As a teenager he had to choose sides in a Revolution. Does he stay with the Americans who were spouting on and on about freedom and independence but showed little inclination towards his freedom? Or run away at the risk of death to join the British, who first enslaved his people and were now only recently extending a promise of liberation to those who came over to their side. He choose the latter and by his sheer will and accomplishment perhaps as both a fighter and a brilliant joyous soul ended up in the presence of a wealthy British General who was to become the Second Duke of Northumberland. That General left the war theater for England in 1777 and took with him the young teen. The General made sure that his ward was given opportunity, sending him to the ancestral family home in Yorkshire to learn the trade of furniture making. That young teen came back to London destined for greatness, ultimately fighting for the boxing championship of England. Despite his fortunate later upbringing, it was not an easy life for Bill Richmond and he had the scars to prove it. He was a former slave brought to a foreign land, with no known family but for the Northumberlands. He was taunted both in and out of the ring for his boxing style and his life well lived, and he often returned the taunts with a pummeling sometimes of several men at a time. He probably never had official papers or even a name in England, since in America he was too young to have joined the British Army and only slaves who became soldiers actually received papers of freedom and a British identity. As an adult, he probably was illegally in England and subject to recapture because when the Americans won their War they demanded return of their lost property, including slaves.[ii] As an owner of a tavern in later life after his career in the ring, he told stories of his many tribulations. With his perfect body, incredible work ethic and quick wit, if there ever was an American who deserved to be cast in stone, Bill Richmond was it.

 

The literature on the Bust of a Man at the Getty which purports that it is an original work by Francis Harwood dated 1758 makes no sense. There is a bit of evidence, rejected by art historians, which shows that the sitter for the piece was likely Bill Richmond and that the piece was created later than the 1758 date now clearly engraved in the base of the Getty piece as a result of the “conservation”. The Getty would have you believe that their piece is an original masterpiece in an otherwise undistinguished oeuvre by a copier and a forger. Their response to my evidence was akin to telling me that I misunderstand 200 years of Art History, something to which I would completely agree with if everyone else would concede that they believe in 300 years of mangled American History. In their “Conservation” they apparently oiled the bust like a slave ready for auction; filled in the holes which clearly showed it to be tan stone painted black and not black stone as they have long claimed; “fixed” the date so it reads more clearly; and perhaps glued it to its socle for a reason that may only be known to them. But, after all, it is their sculpture and they could use it as a doorstop if they wish. I never claimed to have the definitive answer as to the nature of the work but I remain somewhat convinced that the 1758 date on the Getty piece is wrong, and that the sculpture is a copy of a work from life which depicts the brilliant boxer and worthy man Bill Richmond as a youth and the finished original work is the “copy” located at the Yale Center for British Art. But The YCBA doesn’t seem to believe me either, insisting that their work is a Harwood studio copy of the Getty work. The Getty, now having touched up their piece, appears to have taken a more active role in obfuscating any truth of the sculptures. If they understood anything about Bill Richmond, they would know that they are fighting a losing battle.

 

First the stupid stuff. The present online description of the piece on the Getty Museum website still indicates that the piece is carved from Black Stone. http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/1199/francis-harwood-bust-of-a-man-english-1758/ [iii]. According to their conservation notes this is not true as the piece is carved from a tan sandstone shellacked to look like black stone.[iv] The myth of it being made from black stone may have been necessary to improve its provenance as an 1865 catalogue refers to a sculpture being made from Black Marble and the Getty claims that this is their piece. Of course, that is the site which catalogues the piece as (obscure first initial) Richmond the Pugilist. The myth of the black stone has been retold in several of the leading publications on the sculpture so the fact that it just isn’t true will be not make the truthiness of the assertion disappear. Just by itself, the notion that a sculpture was one thing made to look like another thing already casts some doubts as to its authenticity. Add to the fact that its purported sculptor, Francis Harwood, has been labeled as someone who succumbed to copying and forging[v], and I begin with the notion that any piece signed by Francis Harwood might be a copy or a forgery. Talented as he might have been, there is little in his oeuvre to suggest he was capable of producing this as an original piece. That assessment is not mine but is rife throughout the literature.

 

In its provenance of the piece, The Getty Museum website also includes a new reference to the piece having been located for a time at Stanwick Hall, Northamptonshire, England. I assume this was a stupid mistake and not another attempt to obfuscate a truth. There are (or were) two Stanwick Halls; the one in Northamptonshire still stands and has absolutely nothing to do with this piece. The other Stanwick Hall in Yorkshire, Richmond, England was demolished in the 1920’s. It was a secondary seat of the Dukes of Northumberland who were intimately connected to Bill Richmond and to this sculpture. That is where Bill Richmond likely lived and where the sculpture was found and twice catalogued, although whether it was the Getty piece or the YCBA piece that was actually catalogued remains a mystery. Moving the sculpture and the Northumberlands to Northamptonshire may be no more than a research mistake, but it does serve the purpose of suggesting that it was not found in Richmond, England, where Bill Richmond lived and likely took his name, and therefore was not a depiction of Bill Richmond. While I have always conceded that the sculpture may not be a depiction of Bill Richmond, creating false facts and having them repeated does not serve the inquiry well.

 

So what is there to make of the decision by the Getty to “conserve” their Bust of a Man? Well I always thought the purpose of conservation of a piece of art was to return it to its original form. Why then glue it to the socle? Is that original? Why tinker with the date? Where is the evidence that the date was on the original piece? I can point to two catalogues IN THE GETTY PROVENANCE which do not indicate that the piece was dated. One did not include the name of the sculptor and it called the stone black marble and not painted sandstone. I understand why they filled in the holes and oiled it up, that was probably the same thing that Francis Harwood did to make it look more like the original.

 

So why is this important? Frankly, like most of you reading this I really do not care who sculpted the original Bust of a Man or when it was sculpted! What I do care about is American History. Americans are quick to blame the British (or the Dutch) for slavery in America. It is true that these powerful nations introduced slaves to America and many of their citizens became wealthy through the slave trade and the toil of enslaved workers. But at some point, before the American Revolution, the Americans took control of their destiny as slave holders and then kept the institution alive without foreign intervention for another 100 years. Before the American Revolution, The Colonists, especially in the wealthy South, resisted any effort by Great Britain to control their laws even though members of its ruling class were all British citizens. As the abolitionist movement was growing in Britain, including the 1772 ruling in Somersett’s Case which outlawed slavery on English soil, the Colonists were  formulating their escape from any notion that they were subservient to the British Crown or Parliament. The great thinkers of the South where the majority of slaves toiled, espoused the notion of local rule on issues including slavery. The largely mercantile North, which was also getting rich off the slave trade and the toil of enslaved workers, was either gullible or complicit. It is likely that the American Revolution was then, in part, a victory of slave holders and mercantile interests over humanity and civilization. In this narrative, Bill Richmond, a slave child, and General Percy, the Second Duke of Northumberland, represent the British movement towards a more civilized world. The fact that a very wealthy British Duke would bother to commission a sculpture of his black ward in the 1770’s or 1780’s shows a relationship that is much more familial than that of servant to master. In this narrative, the sculpture becomes a tangible presence and a symbol of the move towards civilization and America’s resistence to the tide of history. Little wonder then, that the narrative has been rejected and the sitter in the sculpture remains just another nobody without a name.

 

 

Bill Richmond suffered many indignities in his life and rose above them all. The notion that the Getty may be adding another now by dressing him up and further stripping his name from the work is of little import. If they are doing it purposely to deceive they are very small. If they are ignorant, they are not alone. Personally, like every one of my grey hairs, I think that the piece before conservation had an incredible story to tell and some of that story is now lost (or embellished!)The Getty should be aware that the truth, like Bill Richmond, is just doing the rope-a-dope. The brutish powers will tire of telling their false stories of America, and true heroes like Bill Richmond will take their place in the pantheon of Great Americans, replacing a host of slave owners who have been given a pass despite their unforgivable acts. Remember, the Getty is just a few turns from Hollywood where nobody ever let the truth get in the way of telling a good story. Bill Richmond’s day will come because he was a legendary man and as we all know in Hollywood they always print the legend.[vi]

 

[i] See T.J. Desch Obi, Black Terror: Bill Richmond’s Revolutionary Boxing, Journal of Sport History, Spring 2009 at 99. See also website: http://moreorlesschurch.blogspot.com/2008_10_05_archive.html.

[ii] Our first President championed this cause.

[iii] Accessed on October 28, 2014

[iv] I requested a copy of the notes but I have not yet seen them. See Commentary by Chi-ming Yang http://www.centerforbritishart.org/slavery-and-portraiture/336/commentary-by-chi-ming-yang

[v] Thomas Hoving, False Impressions, (Simon and Schuster 1996) at 64-66.

[vi] The great movie of American myth is John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance which famously concludes with the line “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”.

Bust of a Man…Alternate version

See Bust of Bill Richmond?  at http://idiscoveredamerica.com/?p=52 for the primary version…and The Sequel…Bill Richmond Fights Back http://idiscoveredamerica.com/?p=292

Bust of a Man…Alternate version

My inquiry into the sculpture known as Bust of a Man begins with the known facts. There are two similar sculptures known a Bust of a (Black) Man. One is unsigned and is at the Yale Center for British Art. A lesser one, to my eye,  is at the Getty Museum and is signed “Francis Harwood fecit.”, meaning “I did that!”. The latter is dated 1758. Francis Harwood was a British sculptor who worked in England and Italy from the mid 18th century to his death in 1783. It appears that he was quite adept at making copies of the great sculptures of the world. He did not make his works to deceive, rather he made his living fulfilling the wishes of patrons who wanted copies of the great classical sculptors for their private collection. He was more craftsman than artist, and any assumption that he did the original work located now at the Yale Center because he signed a copy  must be addressed in the context of the reality that he was not that talented. The Yale Center at some point changed its attribution from “Francis Harwood” to “Studio of Francis Harwood” perhaps due to the conflict between the signed and dated lesser work and the realization that it had an unsigned copy by a better sculptor who, they may have surmised, must have worked with Francis Harwood. I suggest otherwise.

What if the signature and/or date of the Getty sculpture is wrong? Since the Getty bust seems most likely a reworked copy of the Yale bust, it seems quite plausible that Francis Harwood created the Getty sculpture, not from a live sitting, but from the existing Yale bust. That is what Francis Harwood did for a living. The date is quite another story. If the Yale bust was created prior to 1758, the identity of the sitter and the sculptor would remain a mystery. I submit that the date on the Harwood copy may be wrong, purposefully wrong. If the two sculptures were actually of a later date, some progress could be made as to the identity of the sitter and the sculptor.

We begin with the assumption, supported in the literature, that the sitter was associated with a Duke of Northumberland, one  of the richest men in the world.  Famously, an American slave who was to take the name “Bill Richmond”, was brought to England around 1777 by Hugh Percy, who was to become the Second Duke of Northumberland. Percy was a General in the British Army who participated in several of the early conflicts of the American War For Independence, including the Battles of Lexington and Concord. He quickly grew fed up with the war and due to disagreements with his Commander, he returned to England while the war was still in its early stages. The slave Bill, of somewhat indeterminate age, impressed the General with his quick wit and his ability to defend himself with his fists. It was not uncommon for British officers to return to England with former slaves who attached themselves to British units as a means of escaping from their horrors. At certain points in the War, both sides promised freedom to slaves who served as soldiers in their army. To the degree that some of these men were runaway slaves or not classified as soldiers, their status after the war was uncertain. In 1772, a lower court judge in England issued an opinion in the matter of Somersett’s Case, which held that since slavery was abhorrent to British law, any slave who is on actual British soil is a free man while on British soil. With the protections afforded by this precedential decision and those provided by the wealthy Duke of Northumberland, Bill Richmond now in England, became educated, acquired a trade, and otherwise seemingly  took his place as a free British subject . Later in life, he revolutionized the sport of boxing and once fought for the title of Champion of England. I suspect that the Yale sculpture was carved at the time Bill Richmond was growing into his adult self, possibly 1781. The scar above the eye and the sculpture’s physique speak to Bill Richmond’s past as a slave or fighter. In the latter part of the 18th century there were several sculptors who could produce such a masterwork and the Dukes of Northumberland were famous for their discerning eye and willingness to spend considerable money on their art. With the surrender of Cornwallis in 1781, Britain and France, while technically still at war over the American conflict, were able to resume a certain amount of trade. The great sculptors of France, most specifically Jean Antoine Houdon, were exploring the issue of slavery in their works. In 1781, Houdon carved a bust of a black woman, thought to be a study for the “attendant” in a fountain sculpture of a bather, of which only the head remains and is located at the Musee municipale Ancienne Abbaye, Saint-Leger, Soissons. This sculpture was later used by Houdon in an allegory of slavery and freedom. As can be seen from the recast sculpture, now in the Musee Nissim de Camondo, Paris, this sculpture is the spiritual kin to the Bust of a Man at Yale and may well have been done by the same sculptor at approximately the same time.

The American victory in its War for Independence led to another adventure in the life of Bill Richmond. The darndest thing happened…the victorious Americans who were all about freedom wanted their slaves back. In the years between the British surrender of 1781 and the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the status of slaves under the control of the British was uncertain. The British insisted on honoring their commitment to those slaves who fought as soldiers in their army and papers were issued on their behalf. Yet in the confusing time, even some freed blacks with papers were re-enslaved. Bill Richmond had not been a soldier and had no papers, but at least he was in Britain where he had some security. Yet there was well reasoned apprehension on the part of many in Britain that in any treaty which would ultimately be signed, Britain might agree to relinquish its  former slaves who had no papers. I presume that neither the (soon to be) Duke nor Bill Richmond was keen on seeing slave Bill returned to slavery in America. As wealthy as the Northumberlands were, Lord Percy was politically and socially vulnerable because of his quick exit from the war theater. It would not look good for a British General to violate the terms of a treaty. Bill Richmond needed an identity that would protect him from deportation just in case the worst political result was negotiated. Enter Francis Harwood.

Francis Harwood had spent his life providing reasonable facsimiles of classical sculptures. Now, in the early 1780’s he was near the end of his life and was about to produce his greatest work. Much was at stake. I suggest, with absolutely no proof, that Francis Harwood copied the masterwork Bust of a Man and signed it, verified it, and falsely dated it. It gave Bill Richmond a false ID. I admit that the date of 1758 was farfetched, as the subject was a man who clearly was younger than that, but the concepts involved in providing a false ID had not yet been perfected. The scar above the eye and impressive physique would testify to the fact that it was Bill Richmond. The year 1758 may have been picked because it predated any American conflict and would therefore provide an unassailable cover. It also may have been inserted to establish a twenty year absence from America, which is often a statutory period for the abandonment of property. Thankfully, we know of no attempt to “repatriate”  and re-enslave Bill Richmond. However, we do know that the Treaty of Paris of 1783 is a convoluted document which many believe required all British officers to return their slaves to their “rightful” owner.

 

To sum up, I believe that the Yale Center for British Art has a sculpture entitled Bust of a Man, which depicts the bust of a former slave who came to be known as Bill Richmond. It is an important piece of American History as well as a sculptural masterpiece. It was probably created in the late 1770’s or early 1780’s and just might be(sorry YCBA) French. The Getty Art Museum has a copy of that sculpture, probably created in 1782 or 1783, created and signed by the lesser British sculptor, Francis Harwood. It was purposely misdated. The Getty sculpture is less of a sculptural masterpiece, yet quite possibly it is one of the most important pieces of art in American History if for no other reason that it is one of the first examples of what was to become an American institution…the phony ID. The spiritual sisters of these sculptures are located at the Musee municipale Ancienne Abbaye, Saint-Leger, Soissons  and the Musee Nissim de Camondo, in Paris. Further investigation should be undertaken to determine if they were created by the same hand.

Below: The Francis Harwood Bust of a Man at the Getty, The recast Houdon, the original Houdon and the YCBA Bust of a Man

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Bust of Bill Richmond?

Bust of Bill Richmond?

by Jerry Leibowitz

(See also Bust of a Man…Alternate version at http://idiscoveredamerica.com/?p=149 and The Sequel…Bill Richmond Fights Back http://idiscoveredamerica.com/?p=292 )

“I’m not made of iron or steel or stone or gold or bronze or wood, I’m Just Your Man”…    Graham Parker

My inquiry into the sculpture known as Bust of a Man begins with some known facts. There are two similar sculptures known as Bust of a (Black) Man. One is unsigned in black limestone and is at the Yale Center for British Art. A lesser one, to my eye, is at the Getty Museum and is signed “Francis Harwood fecit.”, meaning “I did that!”. The latter appears to be in painted sandstone and dated 1758. The Yale Center assumes it has a copy of the Getty work, and assumes it to be a Harwood studio copy. I suggest otherwise.

I submit that the Bust of a Man at the YCBA may be a work of the great French sculptor, Jean-Antoine Houdon, and the sitter is possibly a former American slave who came to be known as Bill Richmond. At the time I believe it was created, between 1777 and 1781, Bill Richmond was in England without official papers or a legal identity. The Bust was catalogued as that of “Negerin“, a possibly derogatory term for a person, usually a woman, of African descent. The catalogued work is in gypsum and I suspect that the black limestone work at the YCBA was derived from it as was a method of operation for Houdon. It is noteworthy that two other significant works of the time which depict black males as subjects, John Singleton Copley’s Head of a (favorite) Negro and Watson and the Shark also have unnamed black subjects. Interestingly, it is quite possible that the person who came to be known as Bill Richmond was the sitter or model for these works as well (note the suspicious scar!), but I leave that astounding notion for further investigation and comment.

Francis Harwood was a British sculptor who worked in England and Italy from the mid 18th century to his death in 1783. He was quite adept at making copies of the great ancient sculptures of the world. For the most part, he did not make his works to deceive; rather he made his living fulfilling the wishes of patrons who wanted copies of the great classical sculptures for their private collection. Some of his work was signed, some was not. Some was created by his hand, some by his active studio in Florence which catered largely to British tourists on their Grand Tour. There are those who suggest that Harwood may have used his talent to dabble in fraud and forgery and believe that some works in major museums thought to be ancient are the product of his hand. His reputation was of a questionable character of the sort that might misdate his work for whatever economic reason he might have. Any assumption that he did the work located now at the Yale Center because he may have signed a similar work must be addressed in the context of the reality that there is scant evidence that he was that talented as an original artist. In a bit of circular logic, I suggest that the date on the Getty Bust must be wrong since Houdon could not have produced his original work before 1758 and Bill Richmond was not in England before 1777.

We begin with the assumption, supported in the literature, that the sitter was associated with the Northumberlands, one of the richest families in the world. An American slave of approximately twelve to fourteen years old who was to take the name “Bill Richmond” was brought to England around 1777 by Hugh Percy, a British Lord who later became the Second Duke of Northumberland. Lord Percy was a General in the British Army who participated in several of the early conflicts of the American War for Independence, including the Battles of Lexington and Concord. He quickly grew fed up with the war due to disagreements with his Commander. Lord Percy returned to England while the war was still in its early stages. The slave, of somewhat indeterminate age, impressed the General with his talents which included a quick wit and his ability to defend himself with his fists. It was not uncommon for British officers to return to England with former slaves who attached themselves to British units as a means of escaping from their horrors. In 1772, a high court judge in England had issued an opinion in the matter of Somersett’s Case, which held that since slavery was abhorrent to British law, a slave who finds a way to sacred English soil is free while on English soil. With the protections afforded by this precedential decision and those provided by the wealthy Northumberlands, the former slave was brought to London, where he lived among a circle the acquaintances of Lord Percy which  included several expatriate artists connected to Benjamin West, including Gilbert Stuart and John Singleton Copley. The former slave was sent by Lord Percy to the Percy ancestral home in Yorkshire where he became educated, and acquired the family  trade of a cabinet maker. At some point he returned to London where he seemingly took his place as a free British subject. Later in life, as Bill Richmond, he revolutionized the sport of boxing and once fought for the title of Champion of England, a title he likely would have won had he began his boxing career as a younger man. Before Bill Richmond, boxing was purely an offensive sport of brute force. Richmond, a welterweight by today’s standards, added a defensive aspect to the sport which enabled him to successfully defeat bigger and stronger foes. He is largely credited with turning the sport from one of brute force into “the sweet science”. Bill Richmond later became a boxing teacher, an instructor to both former slaves and English gentlemen such as Lord Byron. For a time he also owned perhaps the first sports bar in London where he would regale his customers with the stories only he could tell. There is little dispute that he was a beloved great fun smart guy.

I suspect that the YCBA sculpture was carved at the time the former slave was growing into his adult self, possibly 1781. The scar above the eye and the sitter’s physique speak to his past as a slave or fighter in America. In the latter part of the 18th century there were several sculptors who could produce such a masterwork and the Northumberlands were famous for their discerning eye and willingness to spend considerable money on their art. With the surrender of Cornwallis in 1781, Britain and France, while technically still at war over the American conflict, were able to resume a certain amount of trade. The great sculptors of France, most specifically Jean Antoine Houdon, were exploring the issue of slavery in their works. In 1781, Houdon carved a bust of a black woman, thought to be a study for the “attendant” in a fountain sculpture of a bather, of which only the head remains and is located at the Musee Municipale Ancienne Abbaye, Saint-Leger, Soissons. This sculpture was later used by Houdon in an allegory of slavery and freedom. As can be seen from the recast sculpture, now in the Musee Nissim de Camondo, Paris, this sculpture is the spiritual kin to the Bust of a Man at the YCBA and may well have been done by the same sculptor at approximately the same time. In his early catalogue of the works of Houdon, Charles Henry Hart lists a work called “Negerin” under the category of “Busts of Men”. To my knowledge, this work is unaccounted for and may be an early plaster version of the work later produced by Houdon or his studio in black limestone which is at the YCBA . If not Houdon, I can suggest other great artists who could have had a hand in creating the Bust at the YCBA.  Joseph Wilton and Joseph Nollekens, each did work for the Northumberlands; as did Antonio Canova whose early sublime busts were created during this period.  Interestingly, Nollekens held Francis Harwood in low esteem and both he and Houdon were plagued by copiers such as Harwood whose copies of their works, whether purposeful or not,  were attributed as original works. It is possible that Harwood signed his copies to placate the true artists. It is also possible that for economic purposes dates were added later and it is these dates which continue to confuse art historians and add uncertainty to the true nature of the works.

There is some thought that both the Getty and YCBA Bust of a Man are unfinished because they do not bear the identity of the sitter, which would have likely been carved into the base upon completion. But what name did the former slave who came to be known as Bill Richmond have in 1781? Official papers could not be issued on his behalf as the British government only issued papers to those slaves who fought as soldiers for the British Army and not to runaway youths who attached themselves to  the British in an unofficial capacity. In 1781, the victorious Americans who were all about freedom were demanding return of their “stolen property” including their former slaves. The Treaty of Paris of 1783 included a convoluted provision which many thought required the British officers to return their former slaves, at least those who did not serve as soldiers. As wealthy as the Northumberlands were, Lord Percy was politically and socially vulnerable because of his quick exit from the war theater. It would not look good for a British General to violate the terms of a treaty. This young former slave suddenly had a questionable status in England which did not include a real identity. That is exactly how the sculpture depicts him. As a slave child he had no official name in America. Once in England, no papers could be issued on his behalf. In reality, in 1781 he was a young adult without a name. In fact, it may have been his questionable status which had prompted the Northumberlands to move him from cosmopolitan London to rural Yorkshire where he could not easily be found and claimed by some former owner.

 

Upon the 1863 death of Algernon Percy, The Fourth Duke of Northumberland and younger son of the Second Duke, at least one of the two Busts was catalogued. The catalogue of the Fourth Duke’s property at Yorkshire, where Bill Richmond once lived, lists the sculpture as “A fine bust in black marble-W. Richmond the Pugilist-on Italian marble plinth”. The Getty thinks this is their Bust, but I find that questionable since there is no mention of Harwood, no date, and it is my understanding that the Getty Bust is not black marble but painted sandstone. I suggest that this more accurately describes the YCBA Bust! The existence of the 1865 catalogue strongly suggests that Algernon Percy thought the sitter to be Bill Richmond. As a teenager Algernon Percy undoubtedly knew Bill Richmond well and probably went to see him box as did many noblemen who were great fans of boxing (Put up your Dukes!). I suggest that this catalogue presents the best evidence of the identity of the sitter. The fact that the Bust turned up in Yorkshire where Bill Richmond was known to have lived in 1781 also speaks to him as its likely sitter. Upon the death of Algernon’s younger wife in 1911, a Bust in her possession was catalogued as “A carved Black Marble Bust of a Negro, 27 in. high, by F. Harwood, on circular marble plinth”. No date is given. Perhaps this is the Getty Bust. The YCBA Bust, if owned by the Northumberlands, would probably have left the Northumberlands hands after 1865, when the title of Duke of Northumberland fell into the hands of distant cousins, and much of their valuable art collection was sold. The “Houdon” Bust was largely unaccounted for until acquired by Paul Mellon and later the YCBA. The Dowager Duchess retained the Harwood Bust which has found its way into the Getty collection.

Bill Richmond spent his life making a great name for himself. He was born and lived his early life without one. Algernon Percy, a respected worldly man also known as “Algernon the Good” for his good works, apparently believed the bust to be that of the boxer Bill Richmond. But now, due to a date placed on a sculpture possibly by a suspected forger, the art community has taken Bill Richmond’s name away from the sculpture and ironically has left it as nameless as the young slave. They may be right that Bill Richmond was not the sitter. I have tried to read all available information on the subject and I remain unconvinced either way. To me, until proved otherwise, I think the sculpture at the YCBA should be titled as follows:

Bust possibly of W. Richmond the pugilist, as a youth circa 1778-1781. Artist unknown, possibly after Houdon’s “Negerin”. Disputed by 1758 date and signature of Francis Harwood on similar work.

To sum up, I believe that the Yale Center for British Art has a black limestone sculpture now entitled Bust of a Man, which possibly depicts a former American slave who came to be known as Bill Richmond. It may be derived from an original Bust by Jean-Antoine Houdon catalogued as “Negerin”. The original Bust was probably created in the late 1770′s or early 1780′s for the Second Duke of Northumberland, who freed the former slave and brought him to England. The Getty Art Museum has a copy of that sculpture in painted sandstone, incorrectly labeled as black stone, signed by the British sculptor, Francis Harwood bearing the date 1758 which appears suspect. The spiritual sisters of these sculptures are located at the Musee municipale Ancienne Abbaye, Saint-Leger, Soissons and the Musee Nissim de Camondo, in Paris. Further investigation should be undertaken to determine if they were created by the same hand.

 

 

Below: The Francis Harwood Bust of a Man at the Getty, The recast Houdon, the original Houdon and the YCBA Bust of a Man

gettyboamwomanhoudonrecasthousonwomanheadycbaboam