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Attracted by the growing Romantic fashion for giving outlaws and anti-establishment figures heroic stature, Mortimer produced two complementary sets of narrative paintings entitled 'The Progress of Vice' (1774, now lost) and this, 'The Progress of Virtue' (1775). They continue the tradition of painted moral tales begun by Hogarth in the early 1730s, but lack his biting satire on contemporary society. By dealing with 'idealized' vices and virtues embodied in generalized heroic characters, they conform to the canons of history painting. Their simple moralizing tone and elevation of domestic virtues, however, is more akin to the sentimental genre of Greuze in France, and to early nineteenth century historical painting.

August 2004