Disembodied heads a great attraction in Northampton

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In a large room at Northampton Museum & Art Gallery, a row of disembodied heads stare eerily out at visitors.

No, there has been no hideous massacre for the sake of an art exhibition, but the heads are in fact all bust replicas of people both living and dead, famous and little known.

The whole process of immortalising a person’s face in the form of a bust has been practised for many centuries, and now an exhibition celebrating this art form is being showcased at the museum in Guildhall Road.

The exhibition of about 25 heads includes work by local artists as well as some famous names in the world of sculpture, such as Auguste Rodin, Francis Chantrey and Sir Jacob Epstein.

Local personalities such as Tom Osborne Robinson, famous for his work as a designer at Northampton’s Royal Theatre, have also been included as subjects in the display. His bust was created in 1976 by Kathleen Mitchell.

The majority of the works have been taken from the museum’s own store.

Victoria Davies, information and resources officer, said: “I have been in the store many times and looked at them, some haven’t been out often. Our aim is to get as much out on display as possible and I think it is nice for the public to see them.”

The busts on display date from 1658 to 1990. The earliest example is that of Mary Fermor and her husband William, the first baronet of Easton Neston in Northamptonshire.

These were created by Peter Besnier, who is believed to have been mentioned in the writings of the author, Samuel Pepys.

Victoria said: “Besnier was the sculptor for Charles I so would have been a famous name in his day. These busts were bought a few years ago in an auction at Easton Neston.”

Other works on display include the veiled face of Moses and an 1876 bust of Prince Albert, produced by Northampton sculptor Eli Johnson, who died in 1881 at the age of just 31.

Councillor Brandon Eldred, Northampton Borough Council’s cabinet member for community engagement, said: “We have only got room in our museums for five per cent of our collections at the moment, which is a shame.

“This exhibition is really important as we try to get different pieces on display. Since the refurbishment downstairs in the museum we need to get more people through the door and really show off what we can do.”

The display, entitled Bust, started last week and is showing at the museum until March 17. Admission is free.