AN IMPORTANT COLLECTION OF PORTRAIT BUSTS BY JOSEPH NOLLEKENS
Nollekens was born into a family of painters of Flemish origin. He trained under Peter Scheemakers and went on to win a number of prizes at the Society of Arts, eventually raising the funds to travel to Rome 'to see the works of Michelangelo and the other great men' (J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his times, London, 1829). In Rome, Nollekens worked under Bartolommeo Cavaceppi, restoring and copying antiquities, and he established a strong reputation for modelling and cutting marble. Returning to London in 1771, he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in that year, and became a Royal Academician in 1772. Nollekens quickly established a name for himself as a portraitist. John Kenworthy-Browne has said that 'in portrait busts Nollekens scarcely had a rival, and it was largely through his facility to capture and animate a likeness that they became very popular in England' (J. Kenworthy-Browne, 'Nollekens, Joseph (1737-1823), sculptor,' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Sitters included the actor David Garrick, King George III, and, eventually, almost every person of consequence in the land.
Nollekens was also responsible for significant mythological works, such as those he executed for Wentworth Woodhouse (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles). However, his reputation was chiefly for portrait busts, as is evidenced by the increase in price from 50 guineas in 1771 to 150 guineas at the end of his career. The Romantic painter Henry Fuseli's concluded that, 'in a bust he stands unrivalled ... [for] a group of figures, I should have recommended Flaxman; but for a bust, give me Nollekens' (Smith, op. cit. p. 233).
George Cavendish was the third son of William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire and his wife the former Lady Charlotte Boyle, daughter of Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington. He later became Earl of Burlington of the second creation, a title held by his maternal forebears. Famously wealthy, Burlington purchased Burlington House from his nephew, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, and constructed London's Burlington Arcade along the west side of his residence, which itself was significantly elaborated.
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