This powerfully modelled terracotta ‘sketch’ was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1803 when Joseph Nollekens was at the height of his powers. Although most famous for his marble portraiture, Nollekens worked in terracotta throughout his life, using the medium to make immediate figural studies frequently in preparation for projected sculptures. Nollekens had spent a considerable period of his training in Rome, where he had worked with the sculptor and restorer Bartolomeo Cavaceppi, as such he was steeped in both antique sculpture and the methods used for its elaborate restoration. Cavaceppi had a celebrated collection of historic terracotta models and used clay himself when preparing his own reconstructions of antiquities.
Nollekens modelled throughout his career. His earliest biographer, Joseph Smith, noted:
‘The greatest pleasure our Sculptor ever received, was when modelling habits: figures in clay; either singly or in groups, which he had baked; and in consequence of his refusing to sell them, and giving very few away, they became so extremely numerous, that they not only afforded a great display of his industry, but considerable entertainment to his friends.’
The fact that this model was recorded in Nollekens’s posthumous sale confirms Smith’s statement that he retained these sketches. This model is a particularly complex composition showing Lot and his Daughters. Nollekens has shown the action in the round, modelling each figure so that the narrative is only fully revealed as the viewer moves around the group. Given the friable quality of terracotta, this model is preserved in spectacular condition. Acquired at the auction of Nollekens’s studio by ‘Turner’ – possibly his friend and fellow Royal Academician, JMW Turner – this exhibition sketch was last in the collection of Michael Jaffé who placed it in on long-term loan to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.