The sculptor Nollekens built his reputation on the production of portrait busts. While studying the antique and practising in Rome between 1762 and 1770, Nollekens established a network of aristocratic British patrons. After returning to Britain in 1770, he was elected a Royal Academician and quickly became London's most fashionable sculptor. In the 1770s and 1780s he produced several neoclassical marbles and developed a brisk trade in church monuments. In the last decades of the eighteenth century menswear was becoming more understated in both colour and materials. For everyday coats and breeches, fine wool began to replace silk and muted colours became the norm. A patterned waistcoat was often the new focus of attention. Striped, double-breasted waistcoats like that worn by the sculptor Joseph Nollekens in this portrait were particularly popular in the 1780s and 1790s. Nollekens does not wear a wig, though he may have powdered his own hair for which he would have had to pay dearly following the imposition of a powder tax in 1795. Charles James Fox also wears his own hair in the bust Nollekens works on.
Where to see this painting?
National Portrait Gallery, London
St Martin’s Place, London, Greater London, England, WC2H 0HE
If you are planning a visit to see this painting, check with the collection first. Paintings can be moved at short notice.