Seemingly known in only one other version, the bronze bust of a man wearing a soft cap offered here derives from the same model inscribed 'Congreve' in York Castle Museum, Kirkleatham (op. cit., no. 60, pl. 15) and executed by John Cheere in the mid 18th century. Only subtle variations exist between the two busts; the cap of the sitter and the fringe of his cloak have been elaborately engraved and some of the folds of drapery around the truncation of the shoulders and on the lower fold of the cloak have been simplified. Indeed, in terms of the finer details, the present bust relates even more closely to the companion bust of the Kirkleatham Congreve, that of Matthew Prior (ibid, no. 57, pl. 18), where the latter displays a very similar attention to the rendering of fine details on the fringes and cap.
Although no certain source for the model has been traced, in his entry on the Kirkleatham bust (ibid., no. 60) Kenworthy-Browne proposed that Cheere may have taken inspiration from Kneller's 1709 oil painting of Congreve now in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Born in Leeds but subsequently a student of law in the Middle Temple, London, William Congreve was always drawn towards literature, drama, and the fashionable life of 18th century London. His route to stardom was rapid and deserved, however, his career ended almost as soon as it began. After writing five critically acclaimed plays between 1693 and 1700, public tastes turned against the sort of high-brow sexual comedy of manners in which he specialized.
Congreve was the author of countless witty, sardonic quotes, but no other line of his has achieved the sort of fame in the English language as the words of Perez from The Mourning Bride (1697) 'Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned'.