Portrait Bust of a Man

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Portrait Bust of a Man

1st to 2nd Century A.D.
49 x 33 cm (19 ¹/₄ x 13 inches)



Most likely depicting a well-to-do private individual, as someone who could afford such a high-quality portrait, this seems to be a youthful ‘foreign’ man, possibly from the Arabian Peninsula, as suggested by his facial characteristics. Although his hair is coiled with tight curls, this may not be an indicator of race, but more of the styling choices from the period of creation. The locks further back on the right side and at the lower back of the head have been more summarily carved, since these areas of the head were not as visible when this sculpture was set near a wall or in a niche.

His hairline is rather unique, with a large widow’s peak; his imposing face is somewhat serious and severe, with creases above his brow and downturned lips. It was during the Antonine period that this veristic posing became widely used: expressionless, placid and smooth-skinned faces became replaced by physiognomies lined with age, showing emotion and expression. His facial hair is subtly rendered with curled stubble around the jaw line and the suggestion of a moustache, very similar to styling of the 2nd-century depiction of the Roman Emperor Commodus now kept at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

He is draped in a thick fabric exomis or chiton, his chest left bare, another feature of the period. The subtle contouring of his sternum giving a particularly lifelike quality. This sculpture is very well preserved, with a pink-beige coloured patina and some mottling of the surface. There are only two small naturally occurring interstices under the inner corner of the left eye and to the right under the outside corner of the same eye. These interstices would have been filled in with marble-dust stucco and smoothed over. The entire head would then have been painted, as was the norm for sculpture in antiquity.


“The Acquisitive Eye”, House & Garden, March 1985, p104.
John Richardson: at Home, Rizzoli, New York, 2019, p106. (photographed)


Previously in a 17th- or 18th-century European Private Collection
(based on restoration techniques and handwritten note which may refer to an old inventory number).
Private Collection of Sir John Richardson (1924–2019) from at least 1985
(there is a photo of the bust in Richardson’s home taken circa March 1985).
He eclectically collected art from antiquity to contemporary throughout his life.
ALR: S00205480, With IADDA Certificate, this item has been checked against the Interpol database.

Note on the Provenance

John Patrick Richardson was born in London in 1924 to Sir Wodehouse Richardson and Patty (née Crocker) Richardson. His father was a Quarter-Master General in the Boer War and the founder of the Army & Navy Stores in Britain. Sir Richardson died when John was five years old.

He was sent away to boarding school and then enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art at age sixteen to pursue his artistic ambitions. At the outbreak of WWII, Richardson was called up for military service in the Irish Guards but very quickly contracted rheumatic fever and was invalided out of the army. He spent the rest of the war in London with his mother and siblings, working as an industrial designer and later writing for The New Observer.

In 1949, Richardson met collector and art historian Douglas Cooper. Despite the age different, they would become a powerful couple for the next ten years, and in 1952 they purchased the Chateau de Castille in the South of France. Cooper introduced Richardson to many artists, including Picasso, Léger, and Braque who would all become close circle of friends.

In 1960, Richardson left Cooper and moved to New York City where he would organize several important exhibitions on Picasso and Braque. London-based auction house Christie’s asked Richardson to open their New York office and appointed him to run it for the next nine years. Following his time at Christie’s, Richardson joined M. Knoedler & Co. where he oversaw 19th and 20th century paintings.

In 1980, John Richardson decided to dedicate himself to writing and focused on the biography of Picasso that he had begun thinking about during his years in France. The first of four planned volumes, A Life of Picasso, was published in 1991 and won a Whitbread Award. The second volume was published in 1996, and the third in 2007. Volume four was still in progress upon his death in 2019. Richardson was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2012 for his service to the arts. In addition to the Picasso biographies, Richardson wrote a memoir in 1999, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and published a collection of essays in 2011 titled Sacred Monsters, Sacred Masters.