Make a statement with an antique bust

You can't help but notice an arresting face. Here's how to collect antique busts...


Three-dimensional portraits – busts – are so much more lifelike than a painting and make an intriguing and dramatic statement in the home. These detailed sculptures of a person’s head, shoulders and chest date back as far as ancient Egypt and originally had a funerary context – they were a way of commemorating the dead.


The way in which the male sitter was portrayed often signified his professional or aristocratic status. Women were more rarely depicted, although this changed later on (there were many busts made of Queen Victoria).

Busts tend to be fashioned from materials used for sculpture, such as marble, bronze, terracotta, plaster, stone, alabaster and wood. Antique busts portrayed various subjects, including royalty, politicians, popes, Roman emperors, poets, composers and characters from antiquity, from Napoleon Bonaparte to Honoré de Balzac (the famed bust by Auguste Rodin).

As with many antiques, prices depend on material, age, condition, maker and provenance. In the case of busts, their value also depends on the person who is depicted. A bronze portrait bust of Lady Thatcher by Neil Simmons sold for £15,000 at Christie’s last December against a £100 to £700 estimate, and Philip Mould is currently selling a mid to late 18th-century portrait bust of Alexander Pope for £18,500.

There are, of course, more affordable options on the market and some of these are Victorian, which often come up at auction and in fashionable antiques shops these days.

WHERE TO BUY: Fontaine Decorative, Collinge Antiques, Doe & Hope, LASSCO


Fellows Antiques & Fine Art sale, 23rd May 2016


Lot 366 A large plaster bust of Queen Victoria
Estimate £150-£250

Summers Place Auctions, 7th June 2016


Lot 200 A carved white marble bust of the Duke of Wellington, After Joseph Nollekens
Estimate £3,000-£5,000

Adam’s Fine Period Interiors sale, 22nd May 2016


Lot 348 A Belleek first period bust of the Queen of Hops (1863-1890)
Estimate £320

Tooveys Antiques & Period Furniture sale, 20th May 2016


Lot 2616 An early 20th Century French gilt and brown patinated cast bronze head and shoulders portrait bust of a young woman by Francois Raoul Larche
Estimate £400-£600


This feature appeared in March 2016 issue of Homes & Antiques.