Having served an apprenticeship in his home town of Liverpool, John Gibson (d.1866) moved to London, where through connections with Lord Brougham and Messrs Christie, Manson and Woods, he received portrait commissions and had his work accepted by the Royal Academy. His heart set on Rome, Gibson finally arrived there in 1817 and was welcomed into the studio of Canova. He also received assistance from Thorwaldsen, who was living in the city at the time. Gibson's first original work was his life-size figure of the Sleeping Shepherd and his first patron, the Duke of Devonshire, for whom he executed Mars and Cupid. The sculptor's rapid success led friends to urge him to return to England, where he could make substantial amounts of money through such commissions. However, despite exhibiting at the Royal Academy between 1816 and 1864, and being elected a full member in 1838, Gibson refused to do so, only revisiting the country on two further occasions, each time to execute a statue for Queen Victoria.
In the absence of visual or written records, it is difficult to be certain when the present bust of Cupid was actually conceived and executed by Gibson. There are at least two possibilities: in 1826, for Sir Watkyn Williams Wynn, Gibson modelled a statue of Cupid drawing an arrow, holding a bow in his other hand. The work was subsequently exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1829 (no. 1199). This bust, modelled showing the quiver strap across Cupid's chest, may be a reproduction of the head and shoulders of that figure; secondly, in his biography on Gibson, based on the latter's own notes, T. Matthews records the sculptor musing on his just completed first version of Cupid (Love) disguised as a shepherd-boy (executed 1830; exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837 [no. 1169]; see Christie's London, 9 June 1999, lot 306 for a replica of the work). Gibson imagines himself having a conversation with the God, in which Cupid tries to persuade him not to leave the sculpture white (the sculptor was currently experimenting with tinting his marbles, in the tradition of Greek sculpture of the antique), but to give him "my celestial glow, warm, pale and pure". In this discourse, Cupid also refers to his hair: "...the Graces tie up my little top-knot, which they, as well as my mother, always make me wear..." (see T. Matthews, The Biography of John Gibson, RA, Sculptor, Rome, London, 1911, pp 76-78). Although the statue in question shows Cupid wearing a hat, the imaginary conversation between sculptor and subject may subsequently have inspired a new work, the present bust, giving Cupid the top-knot to which he refers.