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Bronze head - Laughing Child

Laughing Child

  • Object:

    Bronze head

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    1750-1800 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Cast bronze

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with the assistance of the Hildburgh Fund

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 22, The Dorothy and Michael Hintze Galleries, case 2

This forms a pair with the Head of a Crying Child (A.3-2008). Variants of the Laughing Child are known in bronze, marble, plaster, Parian ware, and in one Chelsea porcelain version, which is now in the Ashmolean. A nineteenth-century marble bust version is in the V&A's collection (A.5-1982). Another marble signed by Joseph Nollekens (1737-1823) is in the Hermitage, St Petersburg, and probably dates from c.1780. It is likely that Nollekens made this as a copy after an earlier version in bronze, or perhaps plaster, rather than originating the composition (which is first seen in a painting of c. 1765; see below). Two bronzes (one illustrated, both in private British collections) were mentioned in an early publication in The Connoisseur in 1938. Another bronze is in the Liebieghaus Frankfurt, and yet another in a private American collection; a fifth is in a private British collection, and is currently on long-term loan to the V&A. Versions appeared in the sale rooms in 1982, 1987 and 1990. All these bronzes show slight differences in detail and in size, and recall Bernini, although they are unlikely to be Italian. The present one is a good cast, with a rich gold-brown patina.
The authorship and date of the known bronze versions are uncertain, although certain references point to an eighteenth-century origin, and to Roubiliac's probable authorship. A version of the Laughing Head, probably of plaster, is depicted in John Hamilton Mortimer's Self-Portrait with Joseph Wilton of c. 1765. Various plaster items in Roubiliac's sale catalogue of 1762 could refer to models and moulds of the heads, including one 'crying boy', moulds for a pair of 'naked busts', and casts of these, as well as the moulds of 'a young child', 'a laughing boy', and 'a boy's head'. 'Two sculptural figures in marble, laughing and crying boy' are catalogued in William Smith's sale in 1800, followed immediately by a work by Roubiliac. The Chelsea porcelain head of the Laughing Child has also been linked with Roubiliac, who had close connections with the Chelsea factory, and with its proprietor Nicholas Sprimont. Indeed in Roubiliac's sale catalogue a 'laughing boy' is in the same lot (lot 25 on the third day's sale), as a plaster pug dog, a model the sculptor is known to have made for the Chelsea factory. The Laughing Child was evidently more popular than the Crying Child, although both became self-sufficient sculptures in their own right, as is seen from the versions mentioned above. The style of this bronze head recalls both Netherlandish and Italian sculpture of the 17th century, and the lightness of expression and scale (about half life-size) are also reminiscent of French 18th-century sculpture, but all the known versions have a British provenance, and it seems most likely the original models were made in Britain, probably by Roubiliac.

Physical description

Bronze head of a Laughing Child on wood socle with gilt metal mounts.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)


1750-1800 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Cast bronze


Height: 40 cm maximum, Width: 16 cm maximum, Depth: 14 cm maximum

Object history note

Pairs of the Laughing and Crying Child are highly unusual. Variants of the Laughing Child are known in bronze, marble, plaster, Parian ware, and in one Chelsea porcelain version, which is now in the Ashmolean. At least five other bronze versions are known.
Purchased together with A.3-2008, for a total of 9,703.13 from Partridge Fine Art Ltd using a Departmental Purchase Grant and Hildburgh Fund.

Descriptive line

Head, bronze, Laughing Child, after Louis-François Roubiliac, British, 1750-1800

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Thomas Hope and the Neoclassical Vision, Christie's Sale Catalogue, 24 April 2008.

Production Note

After Louis-François Roubiliac


Bronze; Wood; Gilt metal


Bronze casting


Sculpture; Bronze


Sculpture Collection

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