Nollekens and His Times/Volume 2/Scheemakers

vol. 2

551500Nollekens and His Times — ScheemakersJohn Thomas Smith


Scheemakers was a native of Antwerp, a disciple of old Delvaux, and I have frequently heard his pupil Mr, Nollekens relate the following recollections of his life. Scheemakers, when a young man, had so ardent a love for the art of Sculpture, that, notwithstanding his slender means, he was determined to quit Antwerp, and walk to Rome. He commenced his journey in the year 1728, but, before he had accomplished the task, his purse was so considerably reduced, that absolute necessity frequently obliged him to sell a shirt from his knapsack.[1] During his stay in Italy he was much noticed and encouraged, exercising his talent with great avidity, in making numerous small models from most of the celebrated statues and groups in and about that city, which he brought to England.

It has usually been a practice with me, to ask questions of aged persons, or those who have travelled, and to put down their answers as nearly as possible in the words in which they were delivered; and I have invariably found, that the best mode of gaining information from those who are advanced in years, is by having a series of questions ready prepared, so that a long story might not deprive me of the points I might be anxious to obtain. This method I now and then observed with Mr. Nollekens, from whom I received the following answers, as to his master Scheemakers.[2]

"Was Mr. Scheemakers a native of Antwerp?"—"Yes."

"Is it true that he walked to Rome?"—He went from Antwerp to Denmark, where he worked as a journeyman, and where he fell ill, and was so reduced, that he was obliged to sell his shirts; when he recovered, he walked to Rome, selling more of his things."

"About what time did he go to Rome?"—"About the year 1700, when he remained but a very short time; he then walked to England, where he found work, and then he went to Rome again, where he stayed longer, about two years; and then he came back to England."

"What works did he execute for London?"—"He did Dr. Chamberlain's monument in Westminster Abbey; the statue of Sir John Barnard in the Royal Exchange; the statue in the India House, of Admiral Pocock, Major Lawrence, and Lord Clive;[3] the statue of Guy, a bronze, in Guy's Hospital; and the statue of Edward the Sixth, a bronze, in one of the open courts of St. Thomas's Hospital."

"Did he die in England?"— "No, he went to Antwerp, about a year after I returned to England, from Rome (1769), and there he died; he had grown so fat, that when he was kneeling down to say his prayers, he placed his legs under him with his hands."

Scheemakers, on his way to England, visited his birth-place, bringing with him several roots of brocoli, a dish till then little known in perfection at our tables.

He resided in Westminster, in those premises which stood to the north of Henry the Seventh's Chapel, and south-east of St. Margaret's Church, which premises were subsequently occupied by his pupil Henry Cheere, who was afterwards knighted. From this house, Scheemakers moved to Vine-street, as appears by an advertisement in "The London Daily Post and General Advertiser," of Tuesday, December 22nd, 1741, Stating, that "Mr. Scheemakers, the Statuary, is removed from Old Palace-yard to Vine-street, Piccadilly."

In 1756, Mr. Langford had two days' sale of Mr, Scheemakers's pictures, models, and marbles, at his rooms under the Piazza, Covent-garden, in which, Lot 15, of the first day, consisted of "two landscapes, with figures and cattle, by Old Nollekens."[4] Mr. Langford followed this sale with another, which he advertised thus;

"To be sold by Auction, by Mr. Langford, at his house in the Great Piazza, Covent-garden, on Wednesday and Thursday, the 18th and 19th inst. the remainder of the genuine and curious collection of marbles, models, and casts, in groups, figures, and busts, of Mr. Peter Scheemakers, statuary.

The said collection will be exhibited to public view, on Monday, the 16th inst., and every day after, till the time of Sale, which will begin each day punctually at twelve o'clock. Catalogues of which will be delivered gratis, on Saturday, the 14th, at Mr. Langford's aforesaid."—Daily Advertiser, May 6th, 1757.

Of Scheemakers's models I have frequently heard my father speak with considerable pleasure, when he used to state, that they were placed upon tables, stands, and shelves, covered with green baize, round the auction-room, and made a most beautiful appearance. One of them was a small copy of the Laocoon in marble, which was bought by the Earl of Lincoln. After the sale, some of the purchasers gave the moulders leave to make casts of what they had bought, so that the students could procure them at a reasonable rate, and study from them in their own apartments.

Vevini, a Figure-maker, then living in St. James's-street, made a fine mould of the Laocoon, the very first cast of which is at present in the possession of Mr. John Taylor, of No. 12, Cirencester-place, who has been already frequently mentioned in this work: he is now in his 89th year, and is styled the "Father of the Painters;" having been a Pupil of Francis Hayman. Scheemakers, for some time, shared the patronage of the great with Roubiliac and Rysbrack; and not many require to be informed that the statue of Shakspeare in Westminster Abbey was carved by Scheemakers from the design of Kent the Architect; but very few persons appear to be aware, that the beautiful little bronze statue of King Edward VI. in the court-yard of St. Thomas's Hospital, is also by the hand of the same Sculptor. For my own part, I never go into the Borough without indulging myself with a sight of that truly elegant production of Art. Some other specimens of this Artist were in the collection at Wanstead House, and were sold on Friday, 21st June, 1822, in the tenth day's sale of that mansion, and were as follows: Lot 869, "a very splendid Medicean-shaped vase, four feet six inches high, of statuary marble, finely sculptured in high relief, respresenting a Sacrifice to Apollo, upon a stone pedestal, with carved heads and festoons." Lot 370, "A ditto, with the subject of the Sacrifice of Iphigenia, upon a stone pedestal, same as the last."

In the Temple Church, there is a monument by Scheemakers to the memory of Doctor Mead, with his bust.

My amiable and highly-respected friend, Henry Smedley, Esq.. the correctness of whose communications is always implicitly to be depended upon, has favoured me with the following information concerning some other works of this Sculptor.

"Sanctuary, October 13, 1827.


"The six busts by Scheemakers, of which I promised you an account, are in the library at Staunton Harold, the seat of Earl Ferrers, and are noticed in Nichols's "Leicestershire." They represent, 1. Hon. Lawrence Shirley, tenth son of first Earl Ferrers. 2. Anne his wife, daughter of Sir Walter Clayes, Bart., and four of their children, viz.: 3, Lawrence, afterwards fourth Earl Ferrers. 4. Washington (the Admiral) afterwards fifth Earl Ferrers. 5. Elizabeth Shirley, died unmarried. 6. Anne Shirley.

"You are, of course, aware that Scheemakers was also the artist who did the monument of Sir Henry Belasyse, in St. Paul's Chapel, Westminster Abbey.

I am, my dear Sir,

"Very sincerely yours,

"Henry Smedley."

Scheemakers and Delvaux, jun. were also both considerably employed in decorating the gardens belonging to the sumptuous palace at Stowe; and the following is a particular description of their works there, with which I have been favoured by my worthy friend, William James Smith, Esq.[5] who has kindly written it from the sculptures themselves.

"There are," says he, "two groups in white marble, now in the Flower-garden, said to have been executed as a trial of mastery between them; and according to the tradition, the palm was given to Delvaux: the subjects are 'Vertumnus and Pomona,' and 'Venus and Adonis,' the figures rather less than half the size of life. In the Temple of Antient Virtue, are statues, life-size, of Lycurgus, Socrates, Homer, and Epaminondas, all by Scheemakers. Under all, are inscriptions in Latin: I will transcribe them in English.

Under Lycurgus—'Who having planned, with consummate wisdom, a system of laws firmly secured against every encroachment of corruption; and having by the expulsion of riches, banished luxury, avarice and intemperance; established in the state for many ages, perfect liberty and inviolable purity of manners.—The father of his country.'

"Under Socrates,—'Who, innocent in the midst of a most corrupted people; the encourager of the good; a worshipper of the one God; from useless speculations, and vain disputes, restored philosophy to the duties of life, and the benefit of society.—The wisest of men.'

"Under Homer,—'The first and greatest of poets; the herald of virtue, the giver of immortality; who, by his divine genius, known to all nations, incites all nobly to dare, and firmly to suffer.'

Under Epaminondas,—'By whose valour, prudence, and modesty, the Theban commonwealth gained liberty and empire, military discipline, civil and domestic policy; all which, by losing him, she lost.'

"In the front of the pediment of the Temple of Concord and Victory, is a piece of alto-relievo by Scheemakers, representing the four quarters of the world, bringing their various products to Britannia.

"In the Temple of British Worthies are fourteen busts with English inscriptions under them. I cannot find the name of Scheemakers upon any of them, nor can I ascertain whether they are really by him, or not; though, judging from the style of them, I think it most probable. I will add the inscriptions, some of which are interesting.

"'Alexander Pope,—Who, uniting the correctness of judgment to the fire of genius, by the melody and power of his numbers, gave sweetness to sense, and grace to philosophy: he employed the pointed brilliancy of wit to chasten the vices, and the eloquence of poetry to exalt the virtues, of human nature, and, being without a rival in his own age, imitated, and translated, with a spirit equal to the originals, the best poets of antiquity.'

"'Sir Thomas Gresham,—Who, by the honourable profession of a merchant, having enriched himself, and his country; for carrying on the commerce of the world, built the Royal Exchange.'

"'Ignatius Jones,—Who, to adorn his country, introduced, and rivalled the Greek and Roman architecture.'

"'John Milton,—Whose sublime and unbounded genius equalled a subject that carried him beyond the limits of the world.'

"'William Shakspeare—Whose excellent genius opened to him the whole heart of man, all the mines of fancy, all the stores of nature; and gave him power beyond all other writers to move, astonish, and delight mankind.'

"'John Locke,—Who, best of all philosophers, understood the powers of the human mind; the nature, end, and bounds of civil government; and with equal sagacity, refuted the slavish system of usurped authority over the rights, the consciences, or the reason of mankind.'

"'Sir Isaac Newton,—Whom the God of nature made to comprehend his works.'

"'Sir Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam,—Who, by the strength and light of superior genius, rejecting vain speculation, and fallacious theory, taught to pursue truth, and improve philolosophy by the certain method of experiment.'

"'King Alfred,—The mildest, justest, most benevolent of Kings; who drove out the Danes, secured the seas, protected learning, established juries, crushed corruption, guarded liberty, and was the founder of the English constitution.'

"'Edward Prince of Wales,—The terror of Europe, the delight of England; who preserved unaltered, in the height of glory and fortune, his natural gentleness and modesty.'

"'Queen Elizabeth,—Who confounded the projects, and destroyed the power that threatened to oppress the liberties of Europe; shook off the yoke of ecclesiastical tyranny; restored religion from the corruptions of popery; and by a wise, a moderate, and a popular government, gave wealth, security, and respect to England.'

"'King William the Third,—Who, by his virtue and constancy, having saved his country from a foreign master, by a bold and generous enterprise, preserved the liberty and religion of Great Britain.'

"'Sir Walter Raleigh—A valiant soldier and an able statesman, who endeavouring to rouse the spirit of his master, for the honour of his country, against the ambition of Spain, fell a sacrifice to the influence of that Court, whose arms he had vanquished, and whose designs he opposed.'

"'Sir Francis Drake,—Who, through many perils, was the first of Britons that ventured to sail round the globe, and carried into unknown seas and nations the knowledge and glory of the English name.'

"'John Hampden,—Who, with great spirit and consummate abilities, began a noble opposition to an arbitrary court, in the defence of the liberties of his country, supported them in Parliament, and died for them in the field.'

"'Sir John Barnard,—Who distinguished himself in Parliament by an active and firm opposition to the pernicious and iniquitous practice of stockjobbing: at the same time exerting his utmost abilities to increase the strength of his country, by reducing the interest of the National Debt, which he proposed to the House of Commons in the year 1737; and, with the assistance of Government, carried into effect in the year 1750, on terms of equal justice to particulars and to the state, notwithstanding all the impediments which private interest could oppose to public spirit.'

"Here endeth the list of British Worthies. In the Mason's-yard, there is a statue, larger than life, of George II crowned, in his robes, by Scheemakers: it formerly stood in the gardens on a handsome Corinthian column, which was taken down to prevent its falling from decay. To my mind, there is much merit in this statue. Queen Caroline yet stands in a retired part of the gardens—aloft, supported by four Corinthian columns, she is surrounded by trees, and too high to be examined—but the similarity of style is in favour of Scheemakers as the sculptor.

"In the Temple of Friendship are several busts in white marble. I can discover names, however, upon two only— Richard Grenville, late Earl Temple, by Scheemakers, and the Earl of Westmoreland, by one 'Thomas Ady, 1742.' Very probably some of the others are by Scheemakers; they possess considerable merit, and are as follow:—Frederick, Prince of Wales, the Earls of Chesterfield and Marchmont, the Lords Cobham, Gower, and Bathurst, William Pitt, late Earl of Chatham, and George Lyttelton, late Lord Lyttelton.

"I believe I have now enumerated all that are, or are suspected to be, the work of Scheemakers."[6]

  1. It has also been related of Francis Perrier, who, in 1638 produced a book of Antique Statues, in folio, that his poverty was so great, that he accompanied a blind beggar, as his guide, from France to Rome, purposely to study in that splendid school of ancient and modern Sculpture.
  2. At the time I was thus questioning Mr. Nollekens, I was engaged in collecting materials for a work now greatly advanced, and which I hope hereafter to publish, under the title "J. T. Smith's Walks in London;" so that, unfortunately for the present publication, my inquiries were confined to Scheemakers's productions in the metropolis.
  3. Upon this figure Mr. Nollekens said he himself worked, just before he went to Rome.
  4. Till lately, several pictures painted by Old Nollekens for the first Earl of Tilney, were preserved at Wanstead-house. They were sold by auction in 1822, and are thus described in the Catalogue of the magnificent furniture, &c. of that princely mansion. I have added the prices they produced,—Lot 10. "A pair—the Juvenile Artists and Companion, a Boy spinning his Top," 25l. Lot 16. "A pair—the Juvenile Parties; Card-builders and Players at Tetotum," 17l. Lot 138. "Dancing Figures, a sketch, in a French carved frame, 1l. 2s. Lot 225. "Rural Recreations, painted with all the taste and elegance of Watteau," 6l. 6s. Lot 307. "A Boy beating a Drum, and a small Landscape, and two curious models of the Stag and Fox in wax," 8l, 15s. Lot 308. "The Wine-Traders, painted with the tasteful elegance of Watteau," 31l. 10s. Lot 3ll. "Females Bathing, in a Landscape, with a distant view of Wanstead-house," 8l. 18s 6d. Lot 314. "Landscape, Buildings," &c. 7l. Lot 316. "Landscape and Figures, with a youth playing the guitar; painted in the tasteful style of Watteau," 15l. Lot 317. "A Fête Champêtre and Companion; painted with a free pencil and very gracefully drawn," 26l. 15s. 6d. Lot 318. "Interior of the Saloon at Wanstead-house, with an assemblage of Ladies and Gentlemen. A Conversazione," 127l. 1s. Lot 320. "A Masquerade, painted with great freedom and natural expression," 21l. 10s. Lot 321. "The Game of Blmdman's Buff, In a Landscape," 17l. 6s. 6d, The above paintings were sold by Mr. Robins. There were also some specimens at Stowe, executed for Lord Temple, Richard Lord Cobham, and the Earl of Egremont, who is in possession of one which his Lordship purchased at the late Mr. Nollekens's sale at Mr. Christie's. The Marquess of Stafford has several pictures by Old Nollekens, at Trentham. They were painted for his Lordship's father.
  5. Librarian at Stowe.
  6. This Sculptor's statue of Shakspeare, similar in composition to that erected in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey, which has been recently set up over the principal entrance of Drury-lane Theatre, is of lead, and was executed by Cheere, "the leaden-figure man," formerly so highly celebrated at Hyde Park Corner, mentioned in the first volume of this work. This figure has been on the premises ever since the time of Mr. Whitbread, who gave it to the Theatre. For this information, I am indebted to my friend, Mr. Winston.