The president announced that the bust by Hiram Powers was a portrait of Dr James George Playfair. (Council Minutes, 4/10/1889.)

This marble bust is the work of the American sculptor, Hiram Powers, who moved to Florence with his family in 1837, in order to improve his work in marble. Soon after moving to Florence Powers’ first child, James Gibson Powers, died at the age of four. James G. Playfair was one of the physicians who attended Powers’ son as well as frequently providing medical care for other members of the family. As an act of gratitude Powers offered to model Playfair, and he gave the doctor a copy of his original depiction before he returned to England in 1845, this is the marble bust which can be seen in the college today. This particular bust is strikingly similar to Powers’ plaster head of Dr Playfair which is held in the Smithsonian collection and which may have been the initial model on which the College’s marble bust was based.

The College’s council minutes of 14 May 1860 record that the bust had been received when: ‘Miss Playfair had bequeathed to the College the marble bust of her brother the late Dr. James George Playfair, a fellow of this College’.

James George Playfair (1756-1856)

Playfair graduated with an MD from the University of Edinburgh in 1819 and became LRCSE in 1810 as well as MRCS (Eng.) in 1821.

During his career Playfair worked in both Florence and England, dying in London in 1856.