Joseph Francis Nollekens, commonly called ‘Old Nollekens,’ (1702–1748)was a Flemish painter,
He was born in Antwerp, the son of Jan Baptiste Nollekens, a painter who practised for a time in England, but eventually settled in France. He perhaps studied under Antoine Watteau, whose style and choice of subject he to some extent imitated; and did study for a time under Giovanni Paolo Panini.
Nollekens went to England in 1733. On 21 January 1748, he died at his house in Dean Street, Soho, and was buried at Paddington. According to a contemporary story of Thomas Banks, he was a miser, or had a pathological fear of being robbed of property.
When first in England, Nollekens worked on making copies from Watteau and Panini. 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.He also carried out decorative works at Stowe House for Lord Cobham, and painted pictures for the Marquess of Stafford at Trentham Hall.
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.
Nollekens found a major patron in Richard Child, 1st Earl Tylney, for whom he painted conversation pieces, fêtes champêtres, and similar works, usually set 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 a high price for the time. At Windsor there was a picture by him in which portraits of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his sisters were introduced.
Nollekens’s early works are mostly rather pedestrian imitations of Watteau’s works, sometimes with picturesque Roman ruins added in the manner of Giovanni Paolo Pannini. There was a ready market for such works in England, and the demand for decorative pieces of this kind must have encouraged him to settle there. After his arrival in London in 1733, he extended his repertory to include conversation pieces; examples of his work in this vein include a Family Group (1740; Yale Center of British Art, New Haven) and the convincingly English if awkwardly painted Conversation in an Interior (1740; Fairfax House, York). He also painted genre scenes of children, for example Two Children Building a House of Cards and Two Boys Playing with Tops (both 1745; Yale Center of British Art, New Haven), which derive from similar works by Jean-Siméon Chardin and Philip Mercier.
His patrons included Richard Child, 1st Earl of Tilney, who owned Wanstead House, Essex (destroyed), from where 16 pictures by Nollekens were sold in 1822, and Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham, for whom he decorated with bacchanals (destroyed) the two lake pavilions built c. 1717 by John Vanbrugh in the gardens of Stowe, Bucks.