Joseph Nollekens was the son of a Flemish painter who had settled in London. He was apprentice and assistant to the sculptor Peter Scheemakers. In 1761 he went to Italy where he spent nine years, mainly in Rome. He learnt to restore and copy antique statues and these objects were very popular with Grand Tourists as were his portrait busts; he also worked as a dealer. On his return to London, he became the leading sculptor of the day. He achieved lasting notoriety through his pupil, J.T.Smith's famous biography of 1828 'Nollekens and his Times' which painted a picture of the sculptor as a miserly, grasping character.