VAN NOST, JOHN

(fl. 1750-1787)

Sculptor

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Son of J. Van Nost, a native of Mechlin, who worked in London, and was employed by the Duke of Chandos in the statuary work at Canons. It was presumably this, the elder, Van Nost who executed the statue of George I formerly on Essex Bridge. In 1717 the Corporation of Dublin appointed a committee "to treat with some skilful and able statuary of Great Britain or this Kingdom for such statue." The committee proceeded to London and gave the commission to Van Nost. The statue was finished in 1721, sent to Dublin, and exposed to public view on Essex Bridge on the 1st August, 1722. It stood on a pedestal in the river, connected with the western side of the bridge by a short passage, and faced to the east. When the bridge was taken down in 1753 the statue was removed, and after lying neglected for some years was re-erected in its present position in the Mansion House Garden, Dawson Street, in 1798, when the following inscription was cut on the pedestal: "Be it remembered that at the time when Rebellion and Disloyalty were the characteristics of the day the Loyal Corporation of the City of Dublin re-elevated this statue of the First Monarch of the illustrious House of Hanover. Thomas Flemming, Lord Mayor; Jonas Paisley and William Henry Archer, Sheriffs. Anno Domini 1798."

Young Van Nost learned his art from his father. In, or shortly before, 1750 he came to Dublin, where he immediately found plenty of employment. In that year he executed the first of the many important works which he did in Ireland, a "Statue of King George II" for the Guild of Weavers. It was placed in an arched niche over the door of the Weavers' Hall in the Coombe, where it still is, and was exposed to public view on the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, "when the covering was taken off," says "Faulkner's Journal," "in the sight of many spectators, who all expressed their satisfaction thereat by the loudest acclamations and demonstrations of joy."

In the same or following year Van Nost did the busts of "Samuel Madden" and "Thomas Prior," now in the Royal Dublin Society's House; and in 1754 he did busts of "William III" for a number of subscribers. In announcing the completion of these busts he expressed the hope that "no Gentleman subscriber will injure him by lending the said Bust to be moulded by any other hand" ("Faulkner's Journal," 13th April, 1754). He also executed a bust of "Henry Boyle," Speaker of the House of Commons, for the Farmers' Club in Munster. A notice in "Faulkner's Journal" (6th April, 1754) says: "Mr. John Van Nost, the celebrated statuary, hath finished a model in yellow clay for a Busto of the right honourable Henry Boyle, Esq., Speaker of the Hon. House of Commons, in his Parliament Gown and full wig, which is esteemed the most exact likeness that the art of man could perform. Mr. Van Nost is to cast a great number of Bustos from it in plaster of Paris for subscribers, and another is to be cut in beautiful Italian marble for the above society, which is to be placed in their great room as a Testimony of their regard to that distinguished person who is their President."

In 1752 Van Nost was selected as the sculptor of the proposed monument in College Green to Dean Swift; but the project was not carried out.

Over the gateways in the Upper Castle Yard are two statues, "Justice" and "Mars," the work of Van Nost, which were placed in their present position in November, 1753.

The Corporation of Dublin having resolved to erect a statue of "King George II," advertised for tenders for the proposed work in 1752. Two designs were submitted by Van Nost, "whom we apprehend," says the report of the Committee, "to be the most knowing and skilfull statuary in this Kingdom"; and one was accepted and agreed to by the Council in July, 1753. Van Nost went to London and had sittings from the King, returning in August, 1754, when he commenced the work. The statue, which cost £1,000 exclusive of the pedestal, was completed in 1756, and erected in the centre of St. Stephen's Green in 1758, and was, say the Corporation Records, "allowed by persons of skill and judgment to be a complete and curious piece of workmanship."

In 1756 the Friendly Brothers of St. Patrick resolved that a marble or brass statue of General Blakeney should be erected in some conspicuous part of the city at their expense, in commemoration of his gallant defence of Port Phillip in the island of Minorca against the French in that year, and the work was entrusted to Van Nost. This statue, which was at first intended to be placed in the square in the Royal Barracks, was erected in the centre of the Mall in Sackville Street, and was unveiled in March, 1759. An account of the event was given in "Pue's Occurrences" for 17th-20th March, 1759: "Last Friday evening the fine Brass Statue of the Right Hon. Lord Blakeney, Knight of the Bath, richly gilded and done by Mr. Van Nost, was carried from his house in Aungier Street, and erected on a superb white marble pedestal in the centre of the Mall in Sackville Street, and Saturday, being St. Patrick's Day, the anniversary festival of that Patron of Ireland, the Grand Knot of the Ancient and Most Benevolent Order of the Friendly Brothers of St. Patrick, assembled in the morning at the Rose Tavern in Castle Street, and, according to annual custom, walked in procession to St. Patrick's Cathedral, where they heard a sermon preached by the Rev. Mr. Benson; after which they proceeded to the Mall where that curious figure was unmasked in the presence of that illustrious body, and amidst unnumbered spectators, amongst whom were many travellers and competent judges of statuary, who declared this performance to be equal, if not superior, to any piece of the kind in Europe, not only for the strength and judgment expressed in the likeness of the brave old original, but also in the beauty and elegance with which the drapery and armour is executed, and which will be a monument to perpetuate the memory of the noble veteran whom it represents, as well as a lasting honour to him and his native country at whose expense it was erected, and which produced a member so worthy of such a reward for his valour, integrity and unshaken fortitude in his eminent services to the King and the public. After the statue was unmasked the Society returned to the Rose, where an elegant entertainment was prepared for their reception. Underneath the inscription on the pedestal are his lordship's arms supported by a centinel in his regimentals with a drawn sword and a lion embattled and crowned, and on the back a curious gilded figure of the Grand Knot with the other emblems of the Order. Since the said statue has been erected there has been the greatest resort of people to see it that can be imagined, many of whom have seen Lord Blakeney and declare the likeness to be extremely great, so well is this curious piece of statuary executed."

The statue, which, as the foregoing account tells us, was of brass, stood upon a pedestal four or five feet high on which were cut the following inscriptions. On the plinth: "Si Pergama dextrâ Defendi possent, etiam hec defensa fuissent"; on the front: "William Lord Blakeney, the Governor of Minorca, in the year MDCCLVI"; on the back: "Erected by the Ancient and Most Benevolent Order of the Friendly Brothers of St. Patrick." This statue appears to have been the subject of frequent attacks and outrages by "evil-minded persons," and in 1763, within six years of its erection, it was thrown down from its pedestal and much damaged ("Faulkner's Journal," 2nd-5th July, 1763). On account of this or subsequent outrages the statue was removed, but at what time is not known. In a "Tour through the City of Dublin in 1782," which appeared in the "Hibernian Magazine" for 1783, it is stated that there "formerly stood a pedestrian statue of General Blakeney in the centre of this walk [i.e., the Mall]; what became of it we know not."

When Dr. Mosse was laying out the New Gardens (now Rutland Square) he commissioned Van Nost to execute metal statues for the adornment of the grounds, and marble busts for the Assembly Rooms. It was also intended to have large statues of King George II and Frederick, Prince of Wales, of metal, gilt, to be placed on the two pavilions of the building. Six of the garden statues were delivered and erected before Mosse's death in 1759, viz.: "Antinous," "Venus de Medici," "A sitting Venus," "Mercury," "Apollo" and "Faunus"; and four busts were done, viz.: "The Earl of Kildare," "Robert Clayton, Bishop of Clogher," "The Earl of Shannon" and "Arthur Lord Sudley, afterwards 1st Earl of Arran." The sculptor was unable to obtain full payment for his work, and on 24th October, 1757, he addressed a letter to the governors of the hospital asking for payment for his statues. "My present distress," he wrote, "compels me immediately to dispose of them, and am very willing to sell them many pounds cheaper at this juncture than at any other time I could afford them, being just now in misfortune, and must, this instant, raise a large sum to extricate me." After Dr. Mosse's death, in February, 1759, the statues, being still unpaid for, were removed by the sculptor. Of the busts, those of the "Bishop of Clogher," "Lord Shannon" and "Lord Arran" are now in the entrance hall of the hospital.

Van Nost executed other important works in Dublin besides those already mentioned. In Christ Church Cathedral are his monuments to John Lord Bowes and to Thomas Prior; the latter put up by the Dublin Society in 1756. In St. Patrick's Cathedral is the monument to Archbishop Arthur Smyth designed and begun by Van Nost, but finished in 1775 by Henry Darley, which cost fifteen hundred pounds and was described as "the most magnificent ever seen in this Kingdom" ("Hibernian Magazine," 1775). In the City Hall is a bronze statue of "George III" on a marble pedestal, presented to the merchants of Dublin by the Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Northumberland, who paid the sculptor seven hundred guineas. To carry out this work Van Nost went to London in 1765 to take a model of the King from life. Thackeray, in his "Irish Sketch Book," refers to this work as "a pert statue of George III in a Roman toga simpering and turning out his toes."

In 1760 Van Nost executed for the city of Cork an equestrian statue in metal of "King George II." This was erected in the centre of Tuckey's Bridge, which had been widened and reconstructed for the purpose, and it was unveiled on the 16th July, 1761. Its pedestal bore the inscription in gilt letters: "The citizens of Cork erected this statue to the memory of King George II in gratitude for the many blessings they enjoyed during his auspicious reign, A.D. MDCCLXI." The site of the statue was afterwards changed to the end of the South Mall. It suffered many indignities, and was finally removed and broken up. An engraving of it is in Fisher's "Views," 1830. Other works by him about this period, when he was busily employed as a sculptor, were busts of the King and Queen, the "Earl of Halifax," "Sir Edward Hawke" and others, as well as the large monument to Judge Gore in Tashinny church, County Longford, and that to the Earl of Charleville in Tullamore church, a work of considerable merit.

Van Nost was living in Aungier Street in 1759, and in 1763 "in the garden of the Right Hon. Anthony Malone, on the east side of Stephen's Green" (see "Faulkner's Journal," 11th June, 1763, and "Georgian Society," Vol. II). On his leaving Aungier Street he had a sale of his moulds and models, and some of them were bought by the young sculptor, Patrick Cunningham, who had been an apprentice of Van Nost. In 1779 the sculptor was residing at No. 21 Mecklenburgh Street, and in that year, on 19th October, his statue of "Hugh Lawton," Mayor of Cork, 1776, was erected in Cork. In the following year he went to London, where he stayed four years on account of ill-health. Returning to Dublin he there passed the remainder of his life, dying in Mecklenburgh Street in 1787.

Van Nost for long enjoyed almost a monopoly of sculptural work in Ireland, at a time when there were no native artists to compete with him, or capable of carrying out important works. Mrs. Delany, in her "Correspondence," praises him, saying that "he takes as strong a likeness as ever I saw taken in marble; his price is forty guineas for the model and bust." Two medals by Van Nost are known: one, a memorial medal of George II, probably done in 1763; the other of William, Duke or Cumberland, done in 1766. The statue of William III in College Green was long attributed to Van Nost, but as it was erected in 1701 it could not have been his work. The mistake arose, probably, from the fact that at the reparation of the statue in 1836 by John Smyth, a new head was modelled from a bust of the King done by Van Nost in 1754. Since the publication of the Records of the Dublin Corporation it is now known that the execution of the statue was entrusted by the Corporation to Grinling Gibbons.

The following list gives Van Nost's known works:

Sir Arthur Acheson, Bart. Monument, with bust. [Mullabrack church, Co. Armagh.]

Arthur, 1st Earl of Arran, when Viscount Sudley. Bust. [Rotunda Hospital.]

General William, Lord Blakeney. Brass statue, erected in Sackville Street, Dublin, in 1759. Removed before 1782.

John, Lord Bowes. Monument. A life-sized figure of "Justice" leaning on a medallion bearing the head of Bowes in relief. [Christ Church Cathedral.]

John, Lord Bowes. Bust, 1763.

Henry Boyle, Speaker. Bust, 1754.

Henry Boyle, Speaker, when Earl of Shannon. Bust. [Rotunda Hospital.]

Charles (Moore), Earl of Charleville. Mural monument, with recumbent effigy of Lord Charleville between two female figures; above, on a pedestal, is a bust of John Bury of Shannongrove, son of Lord Charleville's only sister. The monument was, as recorded in the inscription, "designed and begun by John Bury, Esq., who died August 4th, 1764, much lamented. His intentions were carried into execution by Catherine, his widow, now Mrs. Prittie, second daughter of Francis Sadleir, of Sopwell Hall, in the county of Tipperary, Esq., who has added his bust as a monument also to a most affectionate husband, and in faithful remembrance of his many virtues." The monument bears Van Nost's name and the date, 1764. [Tullamore church.]

Philip, Earl of Chesterfield, Lord Lieutenant, Bust. [Royal Dublin Society, Kildare Street.] Done in 1769 for the Members Room, at a cost of 35 guineas.

Robert Clayton, Bishop of Clogher. Plaster bust. [Rotunda Hospital.]

William, Duke of Cumberland. Memorial medal, done in 1766.

Nicholas Fitzgerald of King's Meadow, and John Fitzgerald of London. Monument, 16 ft. high. [Waterford Cathedral.] Erected pursuant to the will of Richard, son of Nicholas Fitzgerald. Over a vault, "Time" with his glass representing life run out, and a female figure of "Piety," seated and leaning on a medallion on which are bust portraits of the deceased. Above are the arms of Fitzgerald. The figures are in white marble, the background of grey marble. An engraving of the monument is in Smith's "History of Waterford."

George II. Statue, 1750. [Weavers' Hall, Coombe.]

George II. Equestrian statue, 1756. [St. Stephen's Green.]

George II. Equestrian statue. Formerly in Cork, but no longer existing.

George II. Statue, in Portland stone. Erected in Golden Square, London, 14th March, 1753.

George II. Memorial medal, done probably in 1753. Signed I. V. N.

George III. Statue. [City Hall, Dublin.] Presented to the merchants of Dublin by the Duke of Northumberland in 1765.

George Gore, Justice of the Common Pleas (d. 1753), and his wife, Bridget Sankey. Monument. [Tashinny church, Co. Longford.] A large monument in white and grey marble, with recumbent figure.

George, Earl of Halifax, Lord Lieutenant. Bust, 1763.

Sir Edward Hawke. Bust, 1763.

Earl of Inchiquin. Bust, 1755.

Lord Kingsborough. Bust, 1755.

Earl of Kildare. Just, formerly in Rotunda.

Hugh Lawton, Mayor of Cork in 1796. Statue erected in Cork in 1779.

Samuel Madden. Bust, 1751. [Royal Dublin Society, Kildare Street.]

James, 1st Duke of Leinster. Bust. [Duke of Leinster, Carton.]

Mrs. Susanna Mason, daughter of Sir John Mason. Monument. [Waterford Cathedral.]

Dr. B. Mosse. Bust. [Rotunda Hospital.]

Thomas Prior. Bust, 1751. [Royal Dublin Society, Kildare Street.]

Thomas Prior. Monument, erected by the Dublin Society in 1756. [Christ Church Cathedral.]

Arthur Smyth, Archbp. of Dublin. Monument. [St. Patrick's Cathedral.] The monument originally stood between the fourth and fifth pillars on the south side of the nave; it was moved to its present position in the south transept at the restoration of the Cathedral in 1862.

Lord Sudley.—See Arran.

Catherine (Poer), Countess of Tyrone. [In a grotto at Curraghmore, Co. Waterford.] Life-sized statue, dated 1754.—See "Faulkner's Journal," 3rd June, 1755.

William III. Bust, 1754. It was from this bust that John Smyth modelled the new head when he repaired the statue of the King in College Green in 1836.

Justice. Statue in metal, 1753.

Mars (also called "Valour" and "Fortitude.") Statue in metal, 1753. [Both over the gateways in the Upper Castle Yard, Dublin.]

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