Unpublished and the sitter long-anonymous, this handsome bust can now be identified, thanks to the research of Douglas Lewis, as George Watson Taylor, ‘one of the most spectacularly prominent of all European art patrons of the Revolutionary and Romantic generations’. And, in a neat twist, also illuminated by Lewis, it was in fact the auctioneer James Christie who introduced Gibson to Watson Taylor: ‘…to Mr. Christie I was indebted for an introduction to Mr. Watson Taylor then one of the most liberal patrons of art. After looking at my drawings Mr. Watson Taylor expressed his desire I should model a bust of himself.’ Watson Taylor, who would become Gibson’s most important patron, eventually commissioned five further busts from Gibson of his wife and children. Thanks to inherited plantations in the West Indies, Watson Taylor was able to pursue a political career and was one of the leading English art patrons and collectors of the first quarter of the 19th century. However, easy come, easy go. As Lewis also notes, with the slump in sugar prices in the 1820’s, Watson Taylor was ruined and by 1832 totally bankrupt. Mr. James Christie then was able to help again, though now playing a slightly different role, with a series of spectacular auctions of the contents of the Watson Taylor house on Cavendish Square and Erlestoke Park. King George IV even attended and bought 31 lots, some of which are among the most important pieces of royal French furniture still in the English Royal Collections.
Gibson’s first training was, almost certainly provided by the elder statesman of British sculpture, Joseph Nollekens (1737-1823) and Lewis provides many clues as to what was probably a close working relationship. However, it was after Gibson’s arrival in Rome, that his education and eye were truly formed. Gibson worked for years in the studio of Europe’s most celebrated sculptor, Antonia Canova (1757-1822) and also closely observed the other titan of neoclassical sculpture working contemporaneously in Rome, Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844). As Lewis has suggested, Gibson remained so faithful to the styles and aspirations of Canova and Thorvaldsen, that he is in some degree considered as a third in the international triumvirate of masters espousing pure Neo-Classicism in Sculpture.