In 1987 Paolozzi received a commission from the National Portrait Gallery in London to make a portrait sculpture of architect Richard Rogers. At the same time Paolozzi was developing the idea of a Newton sculpture, which took its inspiration from William Blake's 1795 colour print of Isaac Newton (Tate, London), and shows the seated Newton measuring the universe under the ocean with a pair of dividers. Paolozzi wrote, 'The 1795 image of Sir Isaac Newton ... has fascinated me for many years. Blake shows Newton surrounded by the glories of nature but, oblivious to the beauty, concentrates on reducing the universe to mathematical dimensions. Blake was no admirer of Newton and meant this work to be a critical assessment of the scientist's preoccupations. The work says different things to me. Here we have the work of two British geniuses presenting to us simulataneously nature and science - welded, interconnecting, interdependent. The link is the classically beautiful body of Newton crouched in a position reminiscent of Rodin's Thinker. Newton sits on nature, using it as a base for his work. His back is bent in work, not submission, and his figure echoes the shape of rock and coral. He is part of nature' (R. Spencer (ed.), Eduardo Paolozzi Writings and Interviews, Oxford, 2000, p. 322).
Richard Rogers as Newton is one of three works by Paolozzi in which he combines the Newton figure with the portrait head of Richard Rogers. It was the first idea for the portrait of Rogers, before the development of Newton after Blake. This eventually ended up as an enlarged bronze with a 'neutral' head and the eyes of Michelangelo's David, for the forecourt of the British Library.
The final portrait of Rogers to be included in the National Portrait Gallery's collection was a smaller bronze bust of him, because the National Portrait Gallery and Paolozzi agreed that there was a degree of ambiguity if Rogers was represented as Newton. The present lot was not cast in time for the start of the National Portrait Gallery's 1988 exhibition, but was cast in July 1988 when it joined the exhibition.
We are very grateful to Robin Spencer for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.