WORDSWORTH, WILLIAM (1770-1850)
PORTRAIT BY THOMAS WOOLNER R.A. (1825-1892), large circular bronze medallion, head in high relief, profile facing left, signed 'T.Woolner Sc', titled 'W.Wordsworth' and dated 1851, with dark patination, small hole at top for suspension, c. 11 inches (27.5 cm) in diameter, 1851
THIS FINE, IMPORTANT MEDALLION PORTRAIT OF WORDSWORTH IS OF GREAT RARITY; it is not recorded by Frances Blanshard, and only the example in the possession of the Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere (acquired in about 2000), is otherwise recorded. It is based on the portrait by Woolner for the Wordsworth Memorial in Grasmere Church yard. The bronze version has a greater sharpness of image than the marble in Grasmere. It is illustrated as unique in Pre-Raphaelite Sculpture (the present example is the one illustrated therein).
Thomas Woolner was the only sculptor in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and he went on to become the leading sculptor of his day. His portrait for the memorial was based on Chantrey's bust, borrowed from Crabb Robinson. Woolner probably had the two known examples of the bronze medallion portrait, perhaps for himself, and he clearly took the opportunity to rework (and thereby improve) the image, to the extent, in our view, that it became independent of its source and stands as a separate portrait.
It was his portraits of Wordsworth that brought Woolner his greatest success. An example of this plaque was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851.
REFERENCES: Frances Blanshard, Portraits of Wordsworth, 1959; Pre-Raphaelite Sculpture: Nature and Imagination in British Sculpture 1848-1914, edited by Benedict Read and Joanna Barnes, 1991.