Art in Focus: John Flaxman Modeling the Bust of William Hayley

Art in Focus is an academic initiative for members of the Yale Center for British Art Student Guide Program, through which students are introduced to every aspect of exhibition practice. Students intensify their engagement with the Center’s collections, strengthen their research skills, and test writing in new formats. Student curators select objects for exhibition, write text panels and object labels, and make decisions about installation. 

Art in Focus: John Flaxman Modeling Bust of William Hayley was the third exhibition of the Art in Focus initiative. It examined George Romney’s complex group portrait of 1795, depicting John Flaxman sculpting a monumental bust of the poet William Hayley, with assistance from Thomas Alphonso Hayley, Flaxman’s apprentice and Hayley’s son; the painting also includes a self-portrait of Romney at the edge of the canvas. The exhibition investigated the painting from multiple perspectives, using it as a jumping-off point for exploring the four artists’ relationships to their media and to each other.

The exhibition featured a medallion by Thomas Alphonso—one of only two surviving works by the prodigy—and William Hayley’s published life of his son, both gifts to the Center by Professor Charles Ryskamp, Director Emeritus of the Pierpont Morgan Library and the Frick Collection. Through this group of objects, as well as letters, prints, and drawings, the exhibition addressed questions of the professional and personal relationships among the sitters, the nature of male friendship in the period, and the complex history of the portrait’s ownership. Art in Focus: John Flaxman Modeling Bust of William Hayley also included important new technical information about the group portrait gathered during recent analysis under the oversight of Mark Aronson, the Center’s Chief Conservator of Paintings.

View works from the collection included in this exhibition here.


Student Guide curators of this exhibition were Page Benkowski (ES ’09), Nicole Espy (PC ’09), Samo Gale (MC ’10), Andrew Lee (BR ’09), Yinshi Lerman-Tan (MC ’11), Minghao Liu (JE ’09), Nick Robbins (BC ’10), and Margaret Tung (CC ’10). They worked under the guidance of Professor Ryskamp, as well as members of the Center’s staff, including Matthew Hargraves, Assistant Curator for Collections Research; Linda Friedlaender, Curator of Education; and Jennifer Kowitt, Postgraduate Research Associate in the Education department.

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Art in Focus: John Flaxman Modeling the Bust of William Hayley installation, Yale Center for British Art, photo by Richard Caspole