Joseph Nollekens the Elder

At the Fair

At the Fair by Joseph Nollekens the Elder

Artwork Detail

Joseph Frances Nollekens was the father of the English sculptor Joseph Nollekens, whose bust of James Fox is in our collection.

Nollekens senior was born in Antwerp on 10 June 1702 and died in London on 21 Jan 1748. Painting on copper was a popular tradition in Antwerp.He first studied under his father, Jan Baptiste Nollekens, and later worked with him in Rouane, France where he imitated the fêtes galantes of Antoine Watteau. Rouane became confused with Rome in some texts, but in fact he never went to Italy.

During his first visit to England after 1718 he studied under the landscape painter Peter Tillemans, according to George Vertue. His works also sometimes include picturesque ruins added in the manner of Giovanni Paolo Panini. He returned to England to settle in 1733, and began to also paint conversation pieces.

According to M J H Liversidge, ('An Elusive Minor Master: J F Nollekens and the Conversation Piece', Apollo XCV (1972), ppl 34-41), this type of informal group portraiture was made fashionable around 1725 by Philippe Mercier, an imitator of Watteau. It was quickly converted into a recognisably English idiom in the hands of Bartholomew Dandridge and William Hogarth, and the influence of the latter can be seen in our acquisition.

The largest collection of paintings by Nollekens came from Wanstead House, when 18 were sold in 1822. Liversidge suggests that another painting, Village Scene, (reproduced p36), which is also painted on copper, may well have also have come from that sale. It is this particular work that is most in the style of ours.

Village scene is crowded with figures, something that occurs more rarely in Nollekens' compositions. Pictures of fairs were already popular in England. In a footnote in Hogarth and his place in European Art 1962 pp. 71, 234, note 61 Frederick Antal suggests that Nollekens may have been familiar with pictures such as Pater's Fair at Bezons (New York, Metropolitan museum of Art).

Village Scene and At the Fair share a similar composition, indeed the background is so similar that if it weren't for the disparity in size (ours is slightly smaller) they could be read as companion pieces. The buildings on the left are similar, as is the stance of several of the groups of figures. Liversidge (who has confirmed the attribution of our painting) makes direct links between some of the figures in Village Scene and those in A Musical Conversation, (oil on canvas, collection Lady Galway) including their simplified draperies enlivened by painterly accents, and the way in which the background landscapes dissolve in atmospheric effects.

Mary Kisler

28 January 2004

At the Fair
Joseph Nollekens the Elder
Production date
circa 1735
oil on copper
416 x 596 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2003
Accession no
No known copyright restrictions
International Art
Display status
On display

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