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Posts Tagged ‘John Thomas ‘Antiquity’ Smith’

Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Joseph Nollekens
11 August 1737 – 23 April 1823

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Joseph Nollekens

Joseph Nollekens was born on 11 August 1737 at 28 Dean Street, Soho, London, the son of the Flemish painter Josef Frans Nollekens (1702–1748) who had moved from Antwerp to London in 1733. He studied first under another Flemish immigrant in London, the sculptor Peter Scheemakers, before studying and working as an antiques dealer, restorer and copier in Rome from 1760 or 1762. The sculptures he made in Rome included a marble of Timocles Before Alexander, for which he was awarded fifty guineas by the Society of Arts, and busts of Laurence Sterne and David Garrick, who were visiting the city.

On his return to London in 1770 he set up as a maker of busts and monuments at 9, Mortimer Street, where he built up a large practice. Although he preferred working on mythological subjects, it was through his portrait busts that he became famous and one of the most fashionable portrait sculptors in Britain.

He enjoyed the patronage of king George III and went on to sculpt a number of British political figures, including George III himself, William Pitt the Younger, Charles James Fox, the Duke of Bedford and Charles Watson-Wentworth. He also made busts of figures from the arts such as Benjamin West. Most of his subjects were represented in classical costume.

‘Faith’, a sculpture commissioned by Henry Howard, following the death of his wife Maria in 1788 in childbirth at Corby Castle, is said to be Nollekens finest work. The sculpture can be seen in the Howard Chapel at the Parish Church of Wetheral, Cumbria.

Although he took great care over the modelling of the details of his sculptures, the marble versions were normally made by assistants, such as Sebastian Gahagan who carved Nollekens’ statue of William Pitt for the Senate House at Cambridge, and L. Alexander Goblet. Some subjects were produced in large numbers: more than 70 replicas of Nollekens’ bust of Pitt are known.

Nollekens became an associate of the Royal Academy in 1771 and a full academician the following year.

He died in London in 1823, having made a considerable fortune from his work; he left around £200,000 in his will. He is buried in Paddington Parish Church with a monument by William Behnes.

A biography Nollekens and his Times by his executor John Thomas Smith was published in 1828, portraying him as a grotesque miser. It has been described as “perhaps the most candid biography ever published in the English language”.

No. 44 Mortimer Street in Fitzrovia stands on the site of the house where Nollekens died and has a blue plaque commemorating him.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

John Thomas ‘Antiquity’ Smith
23 June 1766 – 1833

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Antiquity Smith

John Thomas Smith was born in the back of a Hackney carriage. His mother was returning home. He was named John for his grandfather and Thomas after his great uncle, Admiral Thomas Smith. Smith’s father was at that time a sculptor working for Joseph Nollekens, but later became a printseller. John Thomas Smith first tried to train as a sculptor with Nollekens, but left to study with John Keyse Sherwin and at the Royal Academy. After three years he left to live off his drawing skills. He gave up his topographical drawing and acting ambitions to compile Antiquities of London and its Environs which was later described as his favourite work.

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Smith’s portrait of the painter J. M. W. Turner

Smith published books of engravings and worked as a drawing master in Edmonton. In 1807 he published Antiquities of Westminster which has been described as his major work. The work had been inspired by paintings found during extension work to the House of Parliament in 1800. Smith and Charles Gower were invited to see the pictures, and Smith was able to obtain permission to sketch them.

He had to work early in the morning to avoid the workmen. It is said that they frequently demolished what he had just finished sketching and he kept this work up constantly for six weeks. The published book contained over a hundred drawings of antiquities in Westminster that were no longer standing.

Smith had a very public row between 1807 and 1809 following a failed partnership with John Sidney Hawkins. They had planned to work together on a book, with illustrations by Smith and an accompanying text by Hawkins. However the partners fell out and Hawkins went on to publish the book alone; he included an explanation of Smith’s absence. Smith published a reply and this was followed by a refutation by Hawkins. Finally 62 additional pictures were published separately after the publication.

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An engraving of a blind beggar by Smith.

Between 1810 and 1815, Smith created drawings and engravings of notable beggars in London and published The Streets of London: Anecdotes of Their More Celebrated Residents.

Smith was offered the position of Keeper of the Prints department of the British Museum in 1816 The position still allowed Smith to sketch and draw. His next publication, Vagabondiana, or Anecdotes of Mendicant Wanderers through the Streets of London, had an introduction by Francis Douce, who had at one time also worked for the British Museum.

Douce, Sir William Beechey and Smith were the executors of Joseph Nollekens’ will, and it said that Smith was disappointed by the small legacy he received. His next book was a candid biography called Nollekens and His Times. This book was said to be notable for its “malicious candour and vivid detail”. The unkind portrait of Nollekens was also accompanied by short biographies of other leading figures that were better received and are a valuable source for art historians. His biography of William Blake was the basis of later biographies as his was one of the first and was drawn from first hand experience as after he met Blake they never lost contact.

Smith died from inflammation of the lungs in London leaving Anna Maria (born Prickett) whom he had married 45 years before. In the years following Smith’s death in 1833 his executors issued three posthumous works; Cries of London in 1839, Book for a Rainy Day and Antiquarian Ramble in the Streets of London in 1846.

Smith’s 1797 work Remarks on Rural Scenery contains what appears to be the earliest reference to the compositional “rule of thirds”.

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