Bust by Peter Turnerelli

Sometime during 1804 Peter Turnerelli sculpted a bust of Bentham. When or why this work was commissioned remains a mystery.

The sculptor, Peter Turnerelli (1774–1839), was born in Belfast, the grandson of an Italian political refugee. He trained at the Royal Academy, acted as instructor to George III’s daughters between 1798 and 1801, and was then appointed Sculptor-in-Ordinary to the Royal Family. Turnerelli first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1802, and exhibited a bust of Jeremy Bentham there in 1805.

A year before, Bentham had given the bust (or a copy) to his close friends Samuel and Anne Romilly, and in 1807, in a letter to his brother Samuel, Bentham noted that the bust was still at Romilly’s house.

A copy or copies of the bust were also ordered from Turnerelli by the American politician and adventurer, Aaron Burr (1756–1836), who was in England at the time. On 2 September 1808, Burr wrote to Bentham: ‘Turnerelli refuses to give or sell me a bust without your order. Will you be pleased to send me such order for one or two, as he and I may agree, paying, etc.?’ Within a few days, Burr had got Turnerelli’s agreement to purchase at least one bust; he wrote to his daughter, Theodosia, on 9 September 1808: ‘By the next ship ... I shall send you a bust of Mr Bentham, a very good representation of him, but has not the force of the original.’ Burr intended that the bust should travel to America on the Alknomac, which sailed from London on 11 September 1808 with many items for his daughter, but Turnerelli required three weeks to fulfil the order. In fact the bust was sent on the American ship Hopewell which sailed from London on 16 November 1818, but was lost at sea.

Turnerelli made a life mask of Bentham as a record and an aid to his work on the bust, and when Bentham persuaded Aaron Burr to have a bust sculpted by Turnerelli, Burr's journal records the unpleasant process involved in having the mask made. In the journal, written for this daughter, Burr also relates that when the mask was removed it revealed a purple mark on the side of his nose, which obliged him to stay away from female company for a week.

The original bust of Bentham has not been traced. However, what is probably a drawing of the bust has now been found among the Goodrich Papers at the Science Museum Library in London. The drawing was made by Simon Goodrich, a naval draughtsman, who from 1796 worked with Bentham’s brother, Samuel, who was Inspector General of Naval Works, until the Inspector General’s office was abolished in December 1812. The drawing must have been made at some point after the completion of the bust in 1804, and is the only record we have found of the work by Turnerelli—so far.   goodrich600crop.jpg
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