Bust of a Man III- Return of Bill Richmond

“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

I feigned surprise when I heard that the Getty Museum conserved its sculpture called Bust of a Man. It is their sculpture and they could use it as a doorstop if they wish so I am not really surprised that they would decide to touch it up. I have tried to get them to understand certain things about the piece. I would imagine that to the degree that I show up on their radar they are not happy with me since I believe that their sculpture is a copy by a lesser craftsman who often dabbled in fraud. I never claimed to have the definitive answer to how the work was produced but I remain 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 located at the Yale Center for British Art. The YCBA doesn’t seem to believe me either, insisting that their work is a studio copy of the Getty work, none of which makes any sense; but there is no need to recap that here since it is the subject of my first two pieces on the work. The Getty, now having re-oiled their piece, covered the dings which show the piece to be painted sandstone and not Black Stone as their website still indicates, touched up the date, and apparently glued it to its socle now appears to have taken a more active role in obfuscating any truth of the piece. 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 indicates that the piece is Black Stone. http://www.getty.edu/…/francis-harwood-bust-of-a-man…/ accessed on October 29, 2014. According to their conservation notes this is not true as the piece is from a tan sandstone shellacked to look like black stone. See Commentary by Chi-ming Yang http://www.centerforbritishart.org/…/commentary-by-chi… . 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. The myth of the black stone has been retold in several of the leading publications on 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 by Thomas Hoving as someone who succumbed to copying and forging, 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 and that assessment is not mine but is rife throughout the literature.The Getty Museum website also includes a new reference to the piece being 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 a sculpture was found and twice catalogued, although which piece was actually catalogued remains a mystery. Moving the sculpture and the Northumberlands to Northamptonshire may be no more than a typing 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 the sculpture may not be a depiction of Bill Richmond, creating false facts does not serve the inquiry well.

The purpose of this piece is not to rehash my arguments but to explain why they are important. There was a man named Bill Richmond who led an incredible life. He was born a slave in America, although facts of his youth 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 giving him his freedom? Or choose the British, who first enslaved his people and were now only recently extending a promise of liberation to those who fought on their side. He choose the latter and by his sheer will and accomplishment as both a fighter and a joyous soul ended up in the presence of a General who was to become the Second Duke of Northumberland. That General left the war theater in 1777 and took with him the young teen. That young teen went onto greatness, now remembered mostly for his prowess in the ring as Bill Richmond, the Black Terror, basically the inventor of defensive boxing. Although small for a boxer, he developed defensive skills that led him to defeat much larger foes by tiring them out leading to his ultimate attempt to win the boxing championship of England as a much too old fighter. But it was not an easy life for Bill Richmond and he had the scars to prove it. He was a former slave, with no known family but for the Northumberlands. As an owner of a bar in later life, he told stories of his many tribulations both in and out of the ring. 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.So maybe he was the sitter for Bust of a Man. The Fourth Duke of Northumberland apparently thought so as the catalogue of his art work at death so indicates. But for it to be true the piece could not be 1758 as indicated by the Getty, since Bill Richmond was born in the early to mid-1760’s. All I know is that something is amiss here and I am inclined to go with the Duke.

Bill Richmond suffered many indignities in his life and rose above them all. The notion that the Getty may be adding another now is of little import. If they are doing it purposely to deceive they are very small. If they are ignorant, they can join the crowd that refuses to understand that the birth of America was not some holy event but was laced with ugliness.

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