Bust of an African Woman (based on an image of Mary Seacole [1805 - 1881])

Object Details


Bust of an African Woman (based on an image of Mary Seacole [1805 - 1881])


Henry Weekes (British, 1807 - 1877)








66 cm (26 in.)

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The subject of this bust, sprouting from a cluster of palm leaves, looks out with an expression revealing the intelligence, compassion, and strength for which she became known in Victorian England. An extraordinary Jamaican woman, Mary Seacole traveled extensively in Central and South America, where she learned to treat yellow fever and cholera. During the Crimean War, she followed the troops as a sutler, one of the many people offering hospitality services and running inns, bars, and restaurants. In the Ukraine, in addition to running a hotel, she supplied medical services to British troops on the front line, remaining even longer than her fellow nurse Florence Nightingale. After the war, Seacole published her autobiography, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, which became a huge popular and commercial success. By the time Henry Weekes executed this bust in 1859, she was a household name in England. Emphasizing her innate nobility, Weekes used a simple oval form for the chest, adorning the mature woman with only a necklace and the hoop earrings that she always wore. The unusual socle covered with palm leaves refers to Seacole's Jamaican origins, considered tropical and exotic by the English.

- about 1965

Private Collection (Canterbury, England), sold to a private collection, about 1965.

about 1965 - 1995

Private Collection (London, England) [sold, Christie's, London, March 2, 1995, lot 215 to Jonathan Harris Works of Art.]


Jonathan Harris Works of Art (London, England), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995.

Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts (1859) (possibly no. 1321, "An African head".)
  • Royal Academy of Arts (London), 1859
Exhibition of the British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom (1860) (possibly no. 639, "An African Head".)
  • British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, (London), 1860

The Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, exh. cat. (London: Royal Academy of Fine Arts, 1859), p. 50, no. 1321, mentioned as "An African Head."

British Institution for promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, Pall Mall, London. Catalogue of the works of British artists. 1860, p. 24, lot 639, mentioned as "An African Head (marble 80 guineas, plaster 5 guineas)".

Graves, Algernon. The Royal Academy of Arts. A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904 (1905; repr., London: S.R. Publishers LTD. And Kingsmead Reprints, 1970), vol. 8 (1906), p. 194, no. 1321.

Christie's, London. The Nineteenth Century. March 2, 1995, p. 107, lot 215, ill, mentioned as "An English White Marble Bust of a Negress."

Jonathan Harris Works of Art (London: Jonathan Harris, 1995), p. 9, ill, mentioned as "A Marble Bust of a Woman, Possibly Mary Seacole."

Fusco, Peter. Summary Catalogue of European Sculpture in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997), p. 55, ill.

Bilbey, Diane and Marjorie Trusted. British Sculpture 1470 to 2000. A Concise Catalogue of the Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London: V&A Publications, 2002), p. 426, under bibliography.

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