Mortimer, John Hamilton

, an English artist, at one time of considerable fame, was born at Eastbourne in the county of Sussex, in November 1739. His father, who was a collector of the customs at that port, was descended from Mortimer earl of March, and a man of most respectable character. His uncle was an itinerant painter, of merit much above mediocrity; from frequently seeing his productions, the nephew imbibed an early fondness for that art, which he afterwards practised with considerable success. His taste for the terrific he is said to have acquired from the scenery of the place, and the tribe of ferocious smugglers, whom it was his father’s duty to watch, whose countenances, unsoftened by social intercourse, were marked with that savage hardihood, which he afterwards so much admired, and sometimes imitated, in the banditti of Salvator Rosa.

His parents placed him with Mr. Hudson, the most eminent painter of that day, with whom he continued three years, the fellow-pupil of Wright of Derby. He was afterwards twelve months with sir Joshua Reynolds, who had left Hudson about a year before Mortimer became his pupil; but the great school of his improvement was the duke of Richmond’s gallery, which he long attended with great assiduity, and to so good a purpose, that Cipriani and Mr. Moser recommended him to the peculiar attention of that nobleman, who was very desirous of retaining him in his house, but the offer was rejected.

When the society for the encouragement of arts, manufactures, and commerce, gave premiums for the best historical pictures, Mortimer contended for the prize with


Owen’s Cambrian Biography. The Cambrian Register, vol. II. —Gent. Mag. vol. LIX.

| Huytfian and several other artists, painted a picture of St. Paul converting the Britons, was adjudged worthy of the palm, and received one hundred guineas as a reward for his superiority, and an encouragement to his perseverance. -This picture, at a future day, became the property of Dr. Bates of Great Missenden, and, in 1778, was by him presented to the church of Chipping-Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, of which it now forms the altar-piece. At the time of painting it he was an inhabitant of Covent-garden parish, and lived in the piazza, where he contracted an intimacy with Charles Churchill, Lloyd, and several other eccentric characters, more distinguished by the brilliancy of their wit, than the regularity of their conduct. He afterwards removed to a r^ouse in the church-yard of the same parish, and resided there until the year 1775, when he married, and removed to Norfolk-street, where he lived four years during the winter, but in the summer months, pursued his professional studies at a house at Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. In this retirement, secluded from the society to whom he had, in early life, devoted many of his hours, he recovered his health, gave a new tone to his mind, and cultivated his art with more enthusiastic ardour.

He had hitherto been a member of the society of artists of Great Britain, who exhibited at the room now called the Lyceum in the Strand, but, in the year 1779, without expectation or solicitation, he was, by the especial grant of his majesty, created a royal academician, but did not live to see the diploma for, on the 4th of February 1779, deeply regretted by all who had the honour and happiness of his friendship, after an illness of only twelve days, he died at his house in Norfolk-street. His fame has been thought to rest on his picture of king John granting Magna Charta to the Barons, Battle of Agincourt, Vortigern and Rowena, the Incantation, the Series of the Progress of Vice, and the Sir Arthegull from' Spenser. His favourite subjects were of the grotesque or horrible kind; incantations, monsters, or representations of banditti and soldiers in violent actions. The attempts at real character which he made (and of which he has left us etchings) from some of Shakspeare’s most celebrated heroes, are weak and untrue; they leave us nothing to regret in his not having indulged himself in more of the like kind, except for the freedom, with which they are executed. They were very highly | extolled in his time, but the improvement in art and taste which the country has since experienced, has given us more accurate ideas of art, and more just discrimination between character and caricature. 1


Pilkington.—Edwards’s Continuation of Walpole, &c.—The highest character bestowed on him is in the edition of Pilkington, published in 1798; but Fuseli and other critics since have made heavy deductions from the lavish praises of that article.