1777 - 1846
Life Mask of Sir William Blake

Plaster cast head, published in 1823
Inscribed on reverse ‘ A66, PUB . AUG. 1823 iDEVILLE, 17 Strand London’
Size: 11 1/2 inches (292 cm) high


Holmes, Richard, The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2013, p. 29
Holmes, Richard, Insights: The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2005, p. 21
Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 60
Walker, Richard, Regency Portraits, 1985, p. 50

Deville was a sculptor and phrenologist employed as a young assistant by Joseph Nollekens from whom no doubt he learned the technique of taking life-masks with the help of straws to prevent suffocation. The mask was taken when Blake was aged sixty-five so that the phrenologist could have a cast of Blake’s head ‘as representative of the imaginative faculty’. It failed however to please his family and friends; George Richmond said that the unnatural severity of the mouth was caused by the discomforture of the process ‘as the plaster pulled out a quantity of his hair’.

James De Ville (12 March 1777 – 6 May 1846) was a British lamp maker, sculptor and plaster-caster, known also as a phrenologist. He acquired moulds and busts for business purposes, manufacturing reproductions, and also built up a renowned phrenological collection.

From a Swiss Protestant background on his father’s side, he was born in Hammersmith, the son of James Louis De Ville and his wife Mary Bryant.His family fell on hard times, and as a boy De Ville was fostered by an uncle who had a brickmaking business there. De Ville learned plaster casting from Charles Harris (died 1796), to whom he was apprenticed at age 12.

De Ville set up a plaster works in Soho in 1803, moving on after two years to Great Newport Street in the Covent Garden–Leicester Square area. In the 1810s he was in business as a lampmaker and plaster caster, dealing also in lighthouse fittings. From 1814, he had business premises at 367 Strand, London, opposite Fountain Court.

In other lines of business, De Ville dealt in architectural metal wares, and supplied lights for the Menai Bridge. He joined the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1823. From the late 1820s he provided gas fittings to Hanwell Asylum. He also engaged in radical politics.