Sculptor Joseph Nollekens made his first marble bust of Charles James Fox in 1790 (exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year), depicting the politician in a Roman toga, but with longer hair than that seen here. The 1790 bust was carved for William Wentworth Fitzwilliam, Second Earl Fitzwilliam, to be placed in a mausoleum dedicated to his uncle, former Prime Minister Charles Watson-Wentworth, second Marquess of Rockingham. However, the bust was later requested by Empress Catherine the Great as a memorial of Fox’s help in the Russo-Turkish War, when he had been Foreign Minister.
The original version of this second Nollekens bust of Fox, showing the politician again in a toga but with short, Roman hair, was sculpted by Nollekens in 1801 (Royal Academy 1802). Another undraped version was made after Fox sat again for the sculptor in 1804. Nollekens’ busts of Fox were reproduced in great numbers during subsequent years. Copies of his busts of both Fox and William Pitt, often requested as a pair, were the sculptor’s most frequent commissions; Fox’s round, robust features appearing in marked contrast to Pitt’s lean angularity when the two are displayed together.
Joseph Nollekens, son of Joseph Francis Nollekens, a painter from Antwerp, was born in Dean Street, Soho. He studied under the sculptor Peter Scheemakers, before attending William Shipley’s drawing school on the Strand. In 1762 he travelled to Rome where he worked as an antiques dealer, restorer and copier, as well as sculpting portraits of English tourists. By 1771, he had returned to London and taken a house in Mortimer Street, Marylebone. He was elected a Royal Academician in 1772. He sculpted several church monuments and mythological subjects but it was his portrait busts which grew in popularity throughout his career. His final years were plagued by ill health and by 1816 he was almost deaf. He died at the age of 85.
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