Sculptor Count Gleichen’s 1880 marble bust of Disraeli, on which this work is based, was commissioned by Queen Victoria. Disraeli resented his obligation to sit for the work, complaining of sitting ‘for a torturing hour about this cursed bust’.
At that time, actor Sir Henry Irving was also sitting to Gleichen for his own bust. After seeing the Prime Minister’s image in the sculptor’s studio, Irving is reported to have remarked: ‘That seems like myself - you know we actors have to study our own faces a good deal, so that we come to know them.’ Disraeli reportedly arrived at the artist’s studio at that moment and, after the actor’s observations were retold to him, the Prime Minister examined Irving’s bust carefully before facetiously remarking on its ‘striking and distinguished physiognomy.’
Gleichen’s original bust of Disraeli remains in the Royal Collection today. However, shortly after its production, it was announced in the press that replicas of the work in bronze or terracotta were available from the Secretary of the Grosvenor Gallery in London, produced ‘by desire of Her Majesty’. Gleichen also sculpted a marble statue of Disraeli for the Palace of Westminster in 1883.
Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg [known as Count Gleichen], son of Prince Ernst of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, was born at the Castle of Langenburg in Germany. In 1848, he entered the British Navy but was slightly wounded at the Battle of Bomarsund. By 1866, he was suffering from frequent bouts of illness and was forced to retire on half pay. That year he married Laura Williamina, daughter of Sir George Francis Seymour. He later trained for three years under sculptor William Theed II. Gleichen set up a studio within a suite of apartments at St. James Palace, granted to him by Queen Victoria. Here he produced portrait busts, monuments and groups of figures. He built a modest house near Ascot, but died at St James’s Palace at the age of 58.
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