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Bust of William Shakespeare

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The Shakespeare Room is home to a portrait bust of William Shakespeare. Made from plaster with a bronze finish, the bust is a replica of a terracotta original by Huguenot sculptor, Louis Francois Roubiliac (1702-1762) which is housed in the Garrick Club in London.

The State Library bust was originally donated to the Australian Museum by Sir Richard Owen in 1857, it was then transferred to the National Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1912 before finally arriving at the Library in 1955. Another identical terracotta bust is housed in the British Museum with direct provenance to Roubiliac.

The Garrick Club, London believed two replicas of the terracotta bust were produced. One is in the Royal Shakespeare Company Collection in Stratford and the other was presumed lost in the London Crystal Palace fire in 1866. The presence of the State Library’s bust in Australia in 1857 strongly suggests that either a third replica was produced, or that this may be the bust that was believed lost in the Crystal Palace fire.

French sculptor, Louis Francois Roubiliac was one of the most prominent sculptors in England during the first half of the eighteenth century. He produced some of the most important monuments and busts in Britain, including a number of sculptures of Shakespeare. Roubiliac owned a copy of the earliest authenticated likeness of Shakespeare, the so-called Chandos portrait, attributed to John Taylor and it is likely that the bust is based this portrait. There are distinct similarities between the Chandos portrait and the posthumously produced Droeshout engraving which can be found on the title page of Shakespeare’s First Folio, a copy of which is held in the State Library’s collection.