after John Hamilton Mortimer

Self-Portrait

Medium
Oil paint on wood
Dimensions
Support: 314 x 254 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Mrs M. Bernard 1968
Reference
T01041

Display caption

Mortimer was most famous for his scenes of romantic outlaws (‘banditti’). He was also notorious for his dissolute lifestyle and was known as ‘the English Salvator’: a reference to the famous seventeenth-century Neapolitan painter of such themes, Salvator Rosa. According to legend, Salvator himself lived as an outlaw.

This is a copy by an unknown artist of a self-portrait by Mortimer. The image prompted a nineteenth-century commentator to write that Mortimer ‘was fond of the wild, the savage, and the wonderful; and it was his pleasure in the fine picture before us to imagine himself a chief of banditti’.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

After John Hamilton Mortimer 1740–1779

T01041 Self-Portrait

Not inscribed.
Oil (painted oval), 11 13/16 x 9 13/16 (29.7 x 23.3), on panel 12¿ x 10 1/16 (31.4 x 25.6).
Presented by Mrs M Bernard 1968.
Coll: ? Richard Thorold; ? John Slater by 1832;...; Col M H Grant; Mrs M Bernard.
Exh: ? Suffolk Street, 1832 (177).
Lit: [Benedict Nicolson] exh. cat., John Hamilton Mortimer ARA, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne and Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, 1968 (under no. 4).

A Mortimer self-portrait was etched by R Blyth and published by him on September 19th 1782. The original was described on the print as the property of Richard Thorold Esq. The same painting was later engraved by W H Watt and appeared as the frontispiece to the Cabinet Gallery of Pictures in 1833. A second etching of the subject is also said to exist. T01041 may be the original of all three prints, though in the catalogue of the 1968 Mortimer exhibition Benedict Nicolson is ‘unable to persuade himself’ that this is the case.

The Victoria and Albert Museum has a pen drawing (no. 4 in the 1968 exhibition) attributed to Mortimer but resembling Blyth’s etching down to the last detail of the decorative network of etched lines around the portrait oval. It corresponds to an item in the catalogue of Blyth’s sale in 1784 (45: ‘Mortimer’s Portrait, by Blyth’), but Nicolson believes it to be by Mortimer himself: ‘It seems inconceivable that this fine drawing is by Blyth, in spite of the entry in the Blyth sale catalogue, and in spite of the fact that a drawing by Blyth might be expected to exist, considering that the etching was made from the Thorold picture.’

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1967–1968, London 1968.