Van Nost, John II (c.1710–1780), sculptor, was born in London, son of John Van Nost I (sometimes spelt Ost or Oasts), sculptor. His late birth, just prior to his father's death, meant that he did not inherit the family business and was apprenticed to the sculptor Henry Sheemakers in 1726 for seven years. He settled in Dublin in about 1749. It is not clear what first prompted him to come to Ireland, but his move made good commercial sense. Numerous public buildings and open spaces were being developed in Dublin in the 1750s and 1760s and there was a distinct lack of good native sculptors. In 1751 he was paid forty guineas (£42) by the Dublin Society to carve busts of two of its founding members, Thomas Prior (qv) and Samuel Madden (qv), and in 1756 the society paid 180 guineas (£189) for the monument to Prior in Christ Church cathedral, Dublin. In 1750/51 Van Nost was commissioned by the Dublin guild of weavers to make a small gilded figure of George II, and in 1753 he completed the figures of Justice and Mars in the upper yard of Dublin castle. In 1754 he began work on an equestrian statue of George II for the Dublin corporation, which cost £1,000, and was erected in the centre of St Stephen's Green in 1758 (it was destroyed in 1937). His other major works include the statue of Gen. William Blakeney (qv) erected on the Sackville Mall, Dublin, in 1759 (vandalised and removed c.1765), an equestrian statue of George II erected in Cork city in 1761 (removed in the nineteenth century), and a standing figure of George III for the Royal Exchange, Dublin (now in the NGI). He was also commissioned by Dr Bartholomew Mosse (qv) to make gilded figures (which may not have been completed) of George II and George, prince of Wales, for the two pavilions that flanked the Rotunda Hospital, as well as a number of classical ornamental figures for the gardens.
Between public commissions Van Nost worked on marble portrait busts. Mary Delany (qv) noted that he ‘seems an ingenious man, and a great artist in his way, he takes as strong a likeness as ever I saw taken in marble’ (Lady Llanover (ed.), The autobiography and correspondence of . . . Mrs Delany (6 vols, 1861–2) iii, 95–6). There was also a demand for his cheaper copies of busts, such as those of William III (qv) and classical writers, made from plaster of paris. He is also known to have designed three bronze medallions. Though Van Nost achieved early success in Dublin, there is evidence that he got into financial difficulties in the late 1750s. In 1757 he told members of the Rotunda Hospital board that he needed full payment for works already completed as he was in some distress, and in 1759 he held an auction of a number of effects at his workshop on Aungier St.
Van Nost supplemented his income by teaching a handful of gifted pupils at the Dublin Society Drawing Schools. In 1750 he was paid twenty-eight guineas (£29.40) to instruct John Crawley (d. 1757), and in 1754 the society exhibited several clay models by his pupils, including one of George, prince of Wales, by ‘Van Nost's sister’. Patrick Cunningham (d. 1774) was another talented Irish pupil, and the Dublin Society granted him up to £30 to purchase moulds, models, and other useful items at Van Nost's auction in 1759. Van Nost seems to have retained links with the Dublin Society for much of his working life. He acted as judge for school prizes and was commissioned by the society to make several busts, including one of the 4th earl of Chesterfield (qv) in 1767.
During the period 1750–65 Van Nost was the most important sculptor working in Ireland and responsible for virtually every major royal sculpture. Indeed, his name is so closely associated with royal iconography in Dublin that some early biographers have assumed incorrectly that he was also responsible for the original statue of William III which once stood on College Green (the head was repaired in 1836 using a Van Nost cast) and the equestrian statue of George I which once stood on Essex Bridge (designed by pupils of Van Nost's father). Those who commissioned the sculptures may have intended them to be symbols of loyalty and gratitude for the protestant succession, but they were also important artistic creations in their own right. Van Nost combined elements of his Dutch heritage (highly naturalistic facial details) with the new attributes of classicism (Roman clothes, sandals, and batons).
By the late 1760s his career had passed its peak, and newer sculptors such as Edward Smyth (qv), who emerged from the Dublin Society Schools, were starting to gain commissions. Indeed, c.1772 the Dublin merchants selected Smyth's, rather than Van Nost's, design for a statue of Charles Lucas (qv) to be erected at the Royal Exchange. One anecdote from a Dublin gazetteer of 1825 suggests that Van Nost did not take this gracefully: he cut his model in half and removed the middle portion so that it would fit the dimensions specified by the judges. Van Nost may have clung to his professional pride to the very end of his life, but he does not seem to have been begrudging in his praise of new talent. In 1769, for example, he urged the Dublin Society to give £10 maintenance to ‘a poor country boy’ who he thought was a talented sculptor. His last known works include a monument to Archbishop Arthur Smyth (qv) at St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin, which was probably finished c.1775 by Henry Darley, and a statue of Hugh Lawton, mayor of Cork c.1778. During his time in Dublin Van Nost is known to have lived on Jervis St. c.1750, Aungier St. c.1759, at the garden of Anthony Malone's (qv) on the east side of St Stephen's Green c.1763, and Mecklenburgh St. c.1779. He appears to have periodically stayed in London at an address in St Martin's Lane. He died in Dublin in 1780. Examples of his work are in the NGI and the RDS.