There appeared on the cover of the Summer Edition of the Burns Chronicle a very fine photograph of Deidre Nicholls' bronze bust of Robert Burns to complement the fine editorial which appeared in the Spring Edition. For the sake of completeness, the image and editorial are now brought together.

Robert Burns Bronze 2012

This work came about as a result of a suggestion from Professor David Purdie, renowned Burns expert and passionate devotee of his wok, that I produce a portrait head of Burns and he sponsored an Artist's Proof for his study to provide inspiration for his work.

My work began in summer 2011 on the portrait. Using information gleaned from descriptions regarding his height and appearance, it was possible to estimate the size of Burns' skull. After roughing this out in clay to the correct size and proportions, close examination was made of three images, which were produced during Burns' lifetime. these were;-

  • The silhouette by J. Miers, from 1787
  • The portrait in profile by Alexander Reid from 1795-6
  • The 3/4 portrait by Alexander Nasmyth painted in 1787

Other existing images appear to be derivative, some drawings are mirror images taken from the above sources, and were therefore not used. A painting by Peter Tailor was not used as it is not a good painting, being more focussed on a large hat than the face of the poet, and shows nothing useful for a sculptor.

Larger statues of Burns exist, some of which are exquisite, but the emphasis here is on the pose and the clothing rather than on a true likeness. What the sculptor is aiming at in these statues is an impression of the subject. Clothing, pose and hairstyle on statues give the viewer most of the visual information they need to work out who the subject is. The faces on these sculptures are not very detailed, being smooth and unlined, designed to be seen from below and looking up, sometimes to a great height, as in George Square, Glasgow. The hair is often wig-like in its structure. I therefore decided to use only the information available from the contemporary images and descriptions.

Using measurements from previous work on subjects of a similar height, I was able to work out the shapes and proportions of Burns' head.

When beginning work on a portrait head, the profile is always my starting point, so the Miers and Reid works were very useful.

The biggest drawback in working from paintings is that they were designed to flatter, and there are very few lines visible; lines not only give character, they indicate the contours of the underlying structure.

Working on the head

Work on the clay took just over 2 months. This clay was then delivered to the foundry, and the long process of converting this into bronze began. First of all the clay was coated in a couple of layers of silicone rubber to stabilize it and to take really fine details. A plaster was made, and then a wax was cast from the plaster. The was was then worked on by hand to refine any details and make minor alterations. This was then coated in several layers of china clay to retain as much fine detail as possible, before being invested and finally burnt out. The bronze was then melted in a crucible, and poured into the mould.

When cool, the sculpture was cleaned up, the excess bronze removed and final small repairs and alterations completed before it was cleaned up and patinated.

A piece of heavy stone was selected at an early stage; the weight of which is ideal to support the bronze. The stone was prepared to take the bronze, and fittings were welded in place inside the sculpture so that the head could be securely mounted.

The plaster mould will be able to withstand up to a maximum of 9 copies, plus the 2 Artist's proofs, which have already been cast. Each piece in the edition will be signed, dated and numbered to indicate where it is in the order of casting. The first copy will therefore be marked 1/9.

Deidre Nicholls

For further information, email the artist, deidrenicholls@me.com