Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Nollekens, Joseph Francis

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NOLLEKENS, JOSEPH FRANCIS (1702–1748), painter, commonly called ‘Old Nollekens,’ was born at Antwerp on 10 June 1702 and baptised as Corneille François Nollekens. His father, Jean Baptiste, a painter of no importance, practised for a time in England, but eventually settled in France. There, it is said, the son studied under Watteau, whose style and choice of subject he to some extent imitated. He certainly studied for a time under Giovanni Paolo Panini. He came to England in 1733, and married one Mary Anne Le Sacq, by whom he had five children, viz. John Joseph, Joseph (the sculptor), Maria Joanna Sophia, Jacobus, and Thomas Charles. Of these only Joseph, the sculptor, settled in England.

On his first arrival in this country Old Nollekens was much employed in making copies from Watteau and Panini. He also carried out decorative works at Stowe for Lord Cobham, and painted several pictures for the Marquis of Stafford at Trentham. His chief patron, however, was Sir Richard Child, earl Tylney, for whom he painted a number of conversation pieces, fêtes champêtres, and the like, the scenes being laid as a rule in the gardens of Wanstead House. Several of these were included in the sale held at Wanstead in 1822, one, an ‘Interior of the Saloon at Wanstead, with an assemblage of ladies and gentlemen,’ fetching the comparatively high price of 127l. 1s. At Windsor there is a picture by him in which portraits of Frederick, prince of Wales, and his sisters are introduced.

According to Northcote, whose authority is said to have been Thomas Banks the sculptor, Old Nollekens owed his death to his nervous terrors for his property. The fact that he was a Roman catholic, and reputed to be a miser, contributed to increase his anxiety. Dread of robbery finally threw the artist into a nervous illness; he lingered, however, until 21 Jan. 1748, when he died at his house in Dean Street, Soho. He was buried at Paddington.

[Walpole's Anecd. of Painting in England; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists of the British School; Bryan's Dict. of Painters and Engravers; J. T. Smith's Nollekens and his Times, 1829 and 1894.]

W. A.