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British picture restorers, 1600-1950 - N

An online resource, launched in 2009, selectively updated twice yearly. Last updated March 2019. Contributions are welcome, to Jacob Simon at [email protected].

Introduction Resources and bibliography

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*John C. Nairn 1869-1900, John C. Nairn & Sons 1901-1910, John C. Nairn & Son 1911-1931. At 8 Hamilton Row, Dublin 1869-1873, 51 Denzille St, Merrion Square 1874-1914 (also at no.52 by 1884), 13 Westland Row by 1910-1931. Picture restorers, by c.1884 also agents for artists.

John Campbell Nairn (1831-1913), a leading Dublin picture restorer, was the son of George Nairn (1799-1850), animal and portrait painter, and his wife Celia Campbell (1791-1857), also an artist. By his first marriage, to Ellen Carr, John Campbell Nairn had several children, including George Ivor Nairn, who trained as a painter before joining the British Army. These and the following biographical details come from a family tree supplied by George Nairn, George Ivor Nairn’s grandson, following publicity in 1995 concerning a time capsule found at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford (see below). By his second marriage, to his housekeeper, Johanne Byrne, John Campbell Nairn had further children, apparently including Robert Nairn, who was active in his father’s business as a picture restorer (see below).

John C. Nairn & Son’s trade card described the business as picture cleaners and restorers (to the National Gallery, Dublin, added in manuscript) and claimed forty years practical experience. The business gave 3 Duck Lane, Soho, the premises of the picture liners, William Morrill & Son (qv), as its London address, and Garfield Chambers, 42 Royal Avenue as its Belfast address. It offered to line pictures, to transfer them from the original panel or canvas to new canvas and to clean and restore old engravings and mezzotints. For a partial list of clients, see below.

Following John C. Nairn’s death in 1913, it was advertised that the business, ‘John C. Nairn & Son’, would be continued by his son William Joseph Nairn (b.1880) at 13 Westland Row but not at 51-52 Denzille St (Freemans Journal 4 February 1914).

Restoration work: John C. Nairn & Son cleaned and restored portraits in the Mansion House and the City Hall, Dublin, in 1897 (Belfast News-Letter 8 March 1897). John C. Nairn & Son’s undated trade card (see above) listed as clients the Marquis of Downshire, Hillsborough Castle; Lord Arthur W. Hill, MP, London; Earl Kilmorey, Mourne Park, Newry; Lord O’Neill, Shane’s Castle, Antrim; Earl of Gosford, Gosford Castle, Markethill; Sir James Haslett, MP, Belfast; Sir Samuel Black, Glen Ebor, Strandtown; The President, Queen’s College, Belfast; Major H.S. M’Clintock, Kilwarlin House, Hillsborough; Sir Thomas Farrell, PRHA; and the secretary and the keeper of the Royal Hibernian Academy, and several others.

Robert J. Nairn (b.c.1876) was responsible for restoring the ceiling paintings in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, 1899-1901. He left a time capsule above the paintings, containing newspapers, photographs and a note, now housed in the Bodleian Library (University Archives, ST 50, see Oxford University Gazette, vol.125, 23 February 1995). The note is reproduced at www.oxfordpreservation.org.uk. He was working for John C. Nairn & Son as subcontractors to William Morrill & Son. He produced a detailed report of his work, which was published in The Sheldonian Theatre (copy in University Archives, ST 35) and, as ‘Notes of Observations during its Restoration, 1899-1901 by Mr R.J. Nairn’, in The Architect & Contract Reporter, 6 June 1902, pp.369-72.

Nairn also cleaned and restored James Thornhill’s chapel ceiling painting at the Queen’s College, Oxford in 1900, as is apparent from an annotated photograph in the Sheldonian time capsule, and undertook work for the Ashmolean Museum, 1904 (Ashmolean Report, 1904).

Alexander Nicholls, 27 Lucas Road, Kennington Park, London 1865, 5 Green St, Leicester Square 1868-1880. Print and book cleaner, printseller.

Alexander Nicholls (c.1823/24-1880) was described by Andrew Tuer in 1882 as the factotum of the more celebrated Edward Evans (qv), print dealer, cleaner and restorer in the Strand, for whom he appears to have worked from the age of about sixteen in 1839 or 1840 until Evans closed his business in 1864. In censuses, Nicholls was listed as age 17 in 1841, age 35 in 1861 and age 41 in 1871, variously described as born in Westminster or Lambeth. He was living with his mother Frances in Lambeth in 1841 and in 1861, when described as a shopman at a printseller, presumably the Evans business. He married Mary Ann Law in 1868 in the Newington district. In 1871 he was living with his wife at 38 Aldred Road, Walworth. He died in 1880, age given as 56, in Kennington Park, leaving a personal estate worth under £300. His prints were sold after his death by Sotheby’s in two sales on 9 February and 12 July 1881.

Nicholls was listed in London directories as a printseller in 1868, and also as a print and book cleaner from 1869. Nicholls’ business card, dated in manuscript 4 November 1865, provides further details: ‘A. Nicholls, Assistant upwards of 26 years to Messrs. Evans, of the Strand, Print and Book Cleaner, Print Splitter & Re-layer of India Proofs, 27 Lucas Road, Kennington Park. S. Engravings and Drawings Inlaid and Mounted. Ink & Stains taken out of prints & books’ (National Portrait Gallery records, NPG7/1/2/3/5). He supplied engravings to the National Portrait Gallery in 1872 (Duplicates of Accounts, vo.1, p.88).

Sources: Andrew White Tuer, Bartolozzi and his Works, vol.1, n.d but 1882, p.93.

Added March 2019
William Nixon by 1830-1835, Nixon & Son by 1837, Eliza Nixon by 1839, Charles Nixon by 1843-1862. At 5 Navigation St, Birmingham 1830-1841, 109½ New St by 1843-1847, 85 New St by 1849-1850, 10 Steelhouse Lane 1850-1862. Carver and gilder, picture and glass frame manufacturer, picture dealer and restorer.

Charles Nixon (b. c.1811/16) was a leading carver, gilder and picture dealer in mid-19th century Birmingham. It was probably William Nixon, presumably his father, who began the business. In 1850 Charles claimed that the business had been established in 1820. This was when he advertised, as a carver and gilder, picture and glass frame manufacture, that his business had relocated from 85 New St to 10 Steelhouse Lane, opposite the Polytechnic Institution (Aris’s Birmingham Gazette 24 June 1850).

In census records Charles Nixon can be found in 1841 in Navigation St with his wife Sarah, in 1851 in Steelhouse Lane as a carver and gilder, age 35, with his wife Sarah and daughter Violetta, and in 1861 at the same address, now as a picture framemaker, age 50, born in Bath, with his wife and daughter.

Nixon was made bankrupt three times, firstly in 1849 as a glass and picture framemaker, secondly in 1862 as a carver, gilder and picture framemaker and thirdly in 1865, again as a carver, gilder and picture framemaker (London Gazette 10 August 1849, 3 October 1862, 30 January 1866). A sale of his pictures and drawings, picture frames and mouldings, etc, took place after his bankruptcy in 1862 (Aris’s Birmingham Gazette 18 October 1862).

Work as a picture framer, dealer and restorer: Charles Nixon was employed by the leading Birmingham collector, Joseph Gillot, from 1847 until 1860 (Chapel 2008, see Sources below). It is likely that Nixon is the man who left the impressed mark, C. NIXON/ PICTURE LINER, on the stretcher of David Cox’s Sketch from Nature, 1847 (Bonhams, 4 July 2017, lot 14). In 1856 he advertised as a picture restorer, offering upwards of 300 ancient and modern paintings for sale, which he stated that he had purchased from the Tong Castle and others sales (Birmingham Journal 17 May 1856).

Sources: Jeannie Chapel, ‘The Papers of Joseph Gillott (1799–1872)’, online appendix, p.7, Journal of the History of Collections, 2008, vol.20, pp.37-84

Joseph Francis Nollekens, London from 1733, Dean St (later no.29) 1737 to 1748. Landscape, figure and conversation piece painter and picture restorer.

Joseph Francis Nollekens (1702-48) was sometimes known as 'old' Nollekens, to distinguish him from his better-known son,Joseph Nollekens the sculptor. He came to England in 1733. According to George Vertue, writing following his death in 1748, ‘Nollekens’ was born in Antwerp and educated in painting by his father and then when he came to England he worked with his fellow countryman, Peter Tillemans. As a Catholic, he married Mary Ann Lesack or Lesacque at the Sardinian embassy, 3 May 1733, and their children were baptised at the chapel of the Venetian ambassador: John Joseph in 1735, Joseph 1737, Maria Joanna Sophia 1739, James 1741 and Thomas Charles 1745 (National Archives, C 112/183, Chancery, Master Rose's Exhibits). His children are probably the subject of a pair of his small children's portraits, one dating to 1745 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven).

Nollekens lived in Dean St, near Soho Square, from 1737 to 1748 (Survey of London, vol.33, St Anne Soho, 1966, p.135, available online at www.british-history.ac.uk). He died at his house, leaving behind a widow and children (Vertue vol.3, p.137; London Evening Post 21 January 1748). His collection of prints, books of prints, and drawings was sold in 1751 (London Daily Advertiser and Literary Gazette 4 November 1751).

Nollekens was extensively employed at Wanstead by Richard Child, Earl Tylney of Castlemaine. In 1742, he submitted a bill for cleaning and mending pictures for the Howard family (Sotheby's, English Literature and History, 16 December 1996 lot 102). ‘Noliken’ is recorded as a buyer at a picture sale in 1744 (‘Sale catalogues of the principal collections of pictures..., 1711-1759’, vol.2, ms, V&A National Art Library, 86.OO.19).

Sources: Vertue vol.3, p.137; Croft-Murray 1970 p.249; M.J.H. Liversidge, 'An Elusive Minor Master: J.F. Nollekens and the Conversation Piece', Apollo, vol.95, 1972, pp.34-41. For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.

Updated March 2018
Stanley Kennedy North, 47 Bassett Road, London W10 by 1923-1926 or later, 31 Ladbroke Grove by 1931-1942. Artist and picture restorer.

Stanley North (1887-1942) is said to have been the son of a London omnibus driver. He was recorded as an art student, born in Devizes and living in Fulham in the 1911 census. Later that year, he married Vera Rawnsley in the Kensington district; she would subsequently marry Clifford Bax. He was known as Stanley Kennedy North following his second marriage in December 1920 to Helen Dorothy Kennedy (1889-1975). He was a man of wide-ranging talents and colourful character with many connections. His interests included interior decorative painting and folk music. For an entertaining account of Stanley North’s life, see his grandson, Richard D. North’s website at www.richarddnorth.com/archive/elders_betters/stanley_kennedy_north.asp. For his second wife, see Hilary Clare, ‘Madam’, Abbey Chronicle, no.6, September 1990, accessed at ‘Madam’ - Hilary Clare ‎(EJO Society)‎. Stanley Kennedy North of 31 Ladbroke Grove died in June 1942, leaving effects worth £970.

North published a number of technical and popular papers on restoration, including 'Old Masters: Their Scientific Preservation', International Studio, August 1930, pp.22-5, ‘The Framing of Valuable Large Pictures’, Burlington Magazine, vol.61, 1932, pp.12-13, and 'Pictures are not only Art', The Nineteenth Century and After, vol.122, July 1937.

North was occasionally in contact with the National Gallery. In 1929 he received permission to x-ray the Wilton diptych on the premises (National Galley archive, NG1/10, p.97). He was paid £10.10s in December 1930 for a ‘micological’ examination of G.F. Watts’s Life’s Illusions (Tate) and £25 in November 1931 for an unspecified x-ray (NG13/1/11). In December 1931 North contacted the Gallery’s director, Augustus Daniel, to express alarm concerning the Kenwood pictures but Daniel’s diary note makes it clear that he had no high opinion of North and his theories of restoration (National Library of Scotland, Acc.9769, 97/42, 9 December 1931).

Restoration work: North was entrusted by C.H. Collins Baker, Surveyor of the Royal Collection, to work on pictures in the Royal Collection but his largely untried and expensive methods led to difficulties, with King George V sceptical about North’s approach (Millar 1977 p.209). Among works in the Royal Collection, North cleaned Duccio’s tryptych in or after 1930 (Shearman 1983 p.94) and relined the Mantegna cartoons at Hampton Court, 1931-4, using a wax adhesive (Lloyd 2002 p.46; see also Andrew Martindale, The Triumphs of Caesar by Andrea Mantegna in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Hampton Court, 1979, pp.119-22).

North’s work at Petworth, where he cleaned three paintings by Turner in the 1920s, was seen as so disastrous that Lord Leconfield decreed that no further pictures should be touched in his lifetime (Blunt 1979 p.119).

North treated some pictures in the collection of the Duke of Sutherland, including wax lining Titian’s Venus Rising from the Sea in 1931 (National Gallery of Scotland) and x-raying, wax lining and cleaning Titian’s Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto in 1933 (National Gallery and National Gallery of Scotland; see S. Kennedy North, ‘Titian’s Venus at Bridgwater House’ and ‘The Bridgewater Titians II’, Burlington Magazine, vol.60, 1932, pp.58-63 and vol.62, 1933, pp.10-16; Humfrey 2004 pp.95, 160).

For Samuel Courtauld, North cleaned Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and Renoir’s La Loge (both Courtauld Institute of Art; see The Times 26 September 1934); his work on the latter was subsequently criticised by Kenneth Clark, who implied in 1939 that he had overcleaned the man’s head when discussing further cleaning by Helmut Ruhemann (qv) (British Library, Add.MS 52434 f.18).

North was responsible for conserving watercolours by John Sell Cotman in the collections of Russell J. Colman, 1934-7 (now Norwich Castle Museum) and S.D. Kitson (The Times 19 September 1936, 6 July 1937, see also Miklós Rajnai, John Sell Cotman, 1782-1842: early drawings (1798-1812) in Norwich Castle Museum, 1979, p.36 etc). The following information has kindly been provided by Rose Miller, May 2012, from museum conservation records. North lined various paintings now in Norwich Castle Museum, using his patent metal stretcher, including Cotman’s The Silent Stream in c.1935 (also transferring the painting from board to canvas), and Moreton Hall, The Judgement of Midas and The Waterfall in 1936-7. He framed The Beggar Boy with an unattached trellis support across the back, a technique he used on the Colman collection watercolours; the date of this work is unrecorded but it was presumably at the time that he attempted removal of a full size drawing of Cotman’s The Judgement of Midas from the reverse, but destroyed it in the process. He declined to treat View from Yarmouth Bridge for the Colmans, writing in 1939 that he could not solve the problems with the painting, only do something to preserve it.

Sources: Obituary, The Times 23 January 1942. For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.

*Peter Norton, Soho Square, London from 1819, 14 Greek St 1822, 22 Soho Square 1824-1857, 25 Soho Square 1844-1868. Picture dealer and restorer.

Peter Norton, ‘the eminent connoisseur in pictures and other works of art’, as he was described in 1834 (Morning Chronicle 6 January 1834), was a leading collector and dealer and also an occasional picture restorer.

Peter Norton (c.1782-1868) came from a well-known Bristol family. John Sell Cotman drew portraits of ten members of the family in 1800 (Sotheby’s 30 November 1978 lot 50), including Peter Norton I (1729-1813), Peter Norton II (1755-1832) and, treated here, Peter Norton III. The latter was baptised in Bristol in 1782, the son of James and Sarah Norton, also depicted by Cotman. It is difficult to be sure which ‘P. Norton’ was the subject of portraits by William Haines, H.W. Pickersgill and E.H. Baily, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1809, 1817 and 1823 respectively.

Peter Norton III’s only child, Adelaide, married William Manson at St George Hanover Square in 1840 (Morning Post 25 September 1840). For many years he owned or occupied both 22 and 25 Soho Square. In census records he can be found in 1841 at 22 Soho Square, as a picture dealer, age 58, and in 1851 and 1861 at 25 Soho Square, described in 1851 as a proprietor of houses, born in Bristol, unmarried but with his sister and niece, and in 1861 as a picture dealer, by now age 78. He died in November 1868, age 86, described as late of 25 Soho Square, leaving effects of under £30,000, a considerable sum; his will and three codicils were proved by two of his executors, his nephew, John Norton, architect of 24 Old Bond St, and Joseph Townsend of Bristol.

Activities as a dealer and restorer: ‘Mr P. Norton’, presumably Peter Norton, went to the carver and gilder, John Smith (see British picture framemakers), for new picture frames, frame repairs and some pictures and a drawing, 1814-9 (V&A National Art Library, John Smith ledgers, 86.CC.1). He is possibly the Peter Norton, gentleman, found at 8 New Inn, Middle Temple, 1818-20, and before that described as a tea dealer from Gloucestershire in 1812. He offered pictures at auction on occasion, including on 20 March 1823, in 1842 and 1849 (Lugt 16532, 19219). In 1857 he unsuccessfully offered a portrait of Nat Lee by Dobson, together with a Reynolds self-portrait, to the newly founded National Portrait Gallery (National Portrait Gallery archive, volume ‘Offers 1857 to 1864’). Following his death in November 1868, four sales of his collection of more than 2000 pictures and other objects were held by Christie’s in January and February 1869, with a final sale in February 1870.

In 1824 Hugh Irvine, nephew of the dealer, James Irvine of Rome, recommended Norton at 22 Soho Square as a picture cleaner to Sir William Gordon Cumming for the collection at Altyre (National Library of Scotland, Gordon Cumming of Altyre papers, dep.175, section II, box 162(2), information from Helen Smailes). Irvine described Norton as a restorer whom he had employed frequently and had always found him to work well and to be moderate in his charges, adding that he had just successfully cleaned six pictures belonging to Marischal College in Aberdeen.

Added January 2017
George William Novice. In London: 4 Hawick Place, Vauxhall 1825, London Road 1827, 27 Lant St, Borough 1828, 41 Lant St 1830, 2/3 Edward St, Vauxhall Road 1833. In Edinburgh from 1833/34: 1 Blenheim St 1834, 20 Cumberland St 1837-1838, 18 Cumberland St 1839-1846, 1 Windsor St 1847-1849, 3 Comely Green Crescent 1849-1856, 10 North St Andrew St 1857-1867, 2 Malta Green Place 1869-1873. Artist, picture cleaner and author.

George William Novice (1805-73) comes from a family of obscure artists, originally from Kent. He was born 9 December 1805 and baptised at St George the Martyr, Southwark, the son of William Novice and his wife Ann Harriet, née Twelves, and the grandson of George Novice. His father was described as a cabinet maker at the birth of son Henry in 1808 but as a painter at the birth of daughter Caroline in 1810, and indeed he began exhibiting at the Royal Academy from an address in Bermondsey in 1809. George William Novice exhibited genre pictures in London, 1824-33, and at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, 1834-71. An example of his work is Pigeons at a Dovecot, 1823 (Calke Abbey, Derbyshire, National Trust).

Novice moved to Edinburgh in 1833 or 1834. He can be found in Edinburgh Post Office directories as an artist from 1847 but as a picture restorer in Slater’s directory for 1861 (National Library of Scotland, Scottish Post Office directories). He married Isabella Pate on 1 January 1847 at St Mary’s, Edinburgh (see www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/). He published Frauds and follies in picture dealing, etc. A poem in 1859 and Lights in art: A review of ancient and modern pictures, by an artist in 1865, with an appendix, Critical remarks on the present state, treatment, and preservation of oil paintings (accessed through Google books), with a 2nd edition in 1874.

Novice can be found in Edinburgh census records, always with his wife Isabella, in 1851 at 3 Comely Green Crescent as an artist restoring old pictures, age 45, born England, in 1861 at 10 North St Andrew St as an artist, age 55, and in 1871 at 2 Malta Green Place as an artist restoring old pictures, age 65, born London. He died at 2 Malta Green Place in 1873, his age given as 67, his wife named as Isabella Pate and his mother as Harriet Twelves.

As a picture restorer, he cleaned, restored and varnished a Netherlandish panel, Bacchus and Ariadne (National Gallery of Scotland), then owned by the Royal Institution of Scotland, for £10 in 1840 (National Records of Scotland, NG3/5/43). He was in correspondence with the Royal Institution in 1847 (NG3/4/22, not seen).

Updated January 2017
Frank Nowlan, 187 Euston Road, London 1866-1870, 10 Parliament St, Dublin 1871-1872, 115 Grafton St, Dublin 1874, 17 Soho Square, London 1872-1898, 8 Percy St, Tottenham Court Road 1899-1919, home The Elms, London Road, Cheam, Surrey by 1881-1911 or later. Artist and restorer of miniatures, drawings and works of art.

Frank Nowlan (1835-1919) was born in or near Dublin in 1835. He is said to have settled in London in 1857 and to have studied at Leigh’s School of Art and the Langham School of Art. He was recorded in the 1861 census as a miniature painter, age 24, lodging at 49 Warren St and as an artist in subsequent censuses. He married Susanna Haxley in 1861 at St Pancras Old Church. In the 1871 census they were living at 187 Euston Road and in 1881 at the Elms, London Road, Cheam, his age given as 43, with three daughters. One of the daughters, Carlotta, exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1894-1900. By 1907, Nowlan was described as ‘the well-known expert’ by the director of the National Portrait Gallery in a report to his trustees concerning a disputed drawing (Trustees’ minutes, 7 February 1907). He appears as an artist painter, with his wife Susanna, as having been married 49 years, still living at the Elms, in the 1911 census. He died in 1919 at the age of 84 in the Epsom district, leaving effects worth £449. Several of his works were included in a posthumous sale held at Forster’s on 23 July 1919 (The Times 21 July 1919).

Nowlan exhibited in various exhibitions in London and Dublin from 1866 to 1916. He was listed as an artist from 1882 to 1915 in Post Office London trade directories. He is said to have been patronised by the Royal Family and he is also said to have invented the unforgeable cheque. He gave his portrait, drawn by Frederick Walker at Leigh’s School in 1858, to the British Museum in 1911 (British Museum collection database).

In 1958 the National Portrait Gallery was offered two miniatures, one of Frank Nowlan by his daughter Pauline, the other by him of his other daughter, Carlotta, but they were declined as not of sufficient importance (National Portrait Gallery, Trustees’minutes, 17 April 1958, p.314).

Restoration work: Nowlan restored a drawing for the British Museum in 1899, Bernard Orley’s The Parable of Dives and Lazarus (A.E. Popham, Catalogue of Drawings by Dutch and Flemish Artists… in the British Museum, vol.5, 1932, p.34). The same year, he donated a print by Edward Burne-Jones, apparently the artist's only known lithograph (British Museum, 1899,0706.1, information from Sheila O'Connell). He repaired a Cooper miniature for the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1900 (Fitzwilliam Museum Library, Management Syndicate minutes, 1 May 1900). He undertook extensive work on miniatures at the Wallace Collection, 1901-10, at a cost of some £165 in all (Wallace Collection Archives, AR2/50Q; see also Graham Reynolds, Wallace Collection Catalogue of Miniatures, 1980, p.28). He was described in 1922 by D.S. MacColl, Director of the Wallace Collection, as the ‘well-known miniature restorer’ (Burlington Magazine, vol.40, 1922, p.234).

Nowlan undertook occasional restoration work for the National Portrait Gallery, 1901-17, on pastels, drawings, wax medallions and miniatures, including renovating William James Müller’s miniature Self-portrait in 1902 for £1.1s, restoring Ozias Humphry’s pastel, 3rd Earl Stanhope, for £4.4s in 1904, and cleaning James Deville’s plaster head, William Blake, for £2.15s in 1919 (National Portrait Gallery records, Duplicates of Accounts, vols 5 to 8). He also repaired and copied George Romney's pastel, William Cowper, in 1905, shortly before its acquisition by the National Portrait Gallery (see Ingamells 2004 pp.127-8 and n.12).

For the leading collector, George Salting, Nowlan restored miniatures, 1900-7, including a Cooper in 1900 for £2.2s and a Cosway for £7.7s in 1907 (Guildhall Library, Salting bills, MS 19473/1).

Sources: Daphne Foskett, A Dictionary of British Miniature Painters, 1972, p.425.

Found a mistake? Have some extra information? Please contact Jacob Simon at [email protected].

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