John St John Long

The Temptation in the Wilderness


Not on display

John St John Long 1798–1834
Oil paint on board
Support: 226 × 317 mm
Purchased 1986

Display caption

John St John Long was one of the only two known pupils of John Martin, whose three 'Last Judgement' canvases are displayed above. Long's brief artistic career seems only to have spanned the 1820s. The majority of his pictures were biblical subjects. This example is an illustration of the first temptation in the wilderness when the Devil tries to tempt Christ into turning some stones into loaves of bread.
By 1827, Long had set himself up as a 'doctor' specialising in the cure of consumption. In 1828 he was exposed as a quack, and following the death of two patients between 1830 and 1831, was found guilty of manslaughter. He managed to escape with a fine, and continued to practice as a doctor.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

T04169 The Temptation in the Wilderness 1824

Oil on prepared millboard 226 × 317 (8 7/8 × 12 1/2)
Inscribed ‘J.S.J. Long 1824’ bottom centre
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1986
Prov: ...; with Michael Amey, London, 1972; ...; anon. sale, Sotheby's 21 Sept. 1983 (317, as ‘Satan tempting Christ in the Wilderness’, repr.) £380; anon. sale, Christie's 18 Oct. 1985 (180, as ‘Christ in the Wilderness’, repr.) £400 bt Andrew Wyld from whom bt by Tate Gallery

John St John Long was one of the only two known pupils of John Martin. Born near Doneraile, Co. Cork, he studied drawing in Dublin and arrived in London in 1822. At some point he was an assistant, as an engraver, to William Young Ottley (1771–1836), the writer on art, amateur artist and collector of drawings and prints (W.G. Strickland, A Dictionary of Irish Artists, Dublin and London 1913, II, p.24).

With a view to becoming an historical painter he studied anatomy under G.D. Dermott and seems also to have cultivated a friendship with the President of the Royal Academy, Sir Thomas Lawrence (A Defence of John St John Long Esq., M.R.S.L., M.R.A.S., H.M.R.J.S., in the Case of the Late Miss Catherine Cashin ... by a Graduate of Trinity College, 2nd ed., 1831, p.43).

By about 1823 he had become a pupil of Martin's (Thomas Balston, John Martin 1789–1854: His Life and Works, 1947, p.71 and William Feaver, The Art of John Martin, Oxford 1975, pp.104–5). He exhibited nine works in London between 1825 and 1829, making his debut at the British Institution in 1825 with an allegorical subject painted on a canvas nearly nine foot wide. Apart from T04169, only one other picture by Long, ‘Elijah in the Wilderness Comforted by an Angel’, also dated 1824, is known to have survived (oil on canvas, 1023 × 1277, 40 1/4 × 50 1/4, signed and dated ‘November 1824’; Christie's 18 April 1986, lot 90, repr. in col.).

By mid-1827, however, Long had set himself up as a ‘doctor’ specialising in the cure of consumption (A Defence of John St John Long ..., p.64). With a house in Harley Street he soon had a considerable following in fashionable society: even when totally discredited, as he soon was, he could still publish testimonials in support of his method signed by members of the aristocracy and, among others, Sir Thomas Lawrence (Lancet, 26 Feb. 1831, p.725). During 1828 the Literary Gazette devoted five articles to Long's apparently successful cure (which depended upon the drawing of fluid to the skin surface as a counter-irritant) but his quackery was eventually exposed by the Medico-Chirurgical Review in September of that year. This was quickly followed by a sustained campaign against him in the Lancet. After two of his female patients died in quick succession in 1830–1, Long was found guilty of manslaughter on both occasions, though he was only fined rather than imprisoned; the Lancet at this time characterised him as ‘one of the vilest and most scandalous jugglers that ever disgraced society’ (26 Feb. 1831, p.76). In 1830 Long and his practises were the subject of a number of caricatures (M.D. George, Catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. Division I. Political and Personal Satires, XI, 1954, nos.16426, 16427, 16521; and M.D. George, Hogarth to Cruikshank: Social Change in Graphic Satire, 1967, pp.192–3, pl.178). Despite this, his career was unharmed; on his death (possibly from consumption) in July 1834, his ‘secret’ was reportedly sold for £10,000 (Gentleman's Magazine, Dec. 1834, p.656).

Long's brief artistic career, in which seven of his nine exhibited works were of biblical subjects, was clearly indebted to the example of John Martin. On the evidence of T04169 and the ‘Elijah’ Long's technique and treatment of subject matter were taken directly from Martin: in the case of T04169, his model must have been a small mezzotint by Martin, ‘Christ Tempted in the Wilderness’, which was published in 1824 (Michael J. Campbell, John Martin, Visionary Printmaker, exh. cat., York City Art Gallery 1992, no.24, repr.; the compiler is grateful to Michael Campbell for bringing this to his attention). This is the obvious source for Long's image; but it is tempting to think that Long might have been looking back to the work of Adam Elsheimer (1578–1610), particularly in the way in which he sets a biblical incident in what is so obviously a northern landscape. It is not inconceivable that Long might have seen prints after Elsheimer in Ottley's collection, though there is no evidence for this.

There is, however, a curious connection to be made between Long's quackery and his preoccupation with biblical subject matter which suggests that the artist might have seen himself as a genuine visionary. It is to be found in published comments made by the eminent surgeon Anthony Carlisle when he quotes Long as saying apropos his cure:

I have acquired my knowledge by perusing the Scriptures. It is by contemplating the consequences of the original fall of man that I was led to make the important discovery which I have done, and it is only by constant prayer that I have been able to fructify it ... I have discovered the nature of original sin, it was first infused into the human constitution when Adam fell. This original sin is of the nature of an acid, and the tendency of my method is to attract it to the surface, and alienate it from the system ...

(Lancet, 17 Aug. 1833, p.668)

T04169 is an illustration of the first temptation in the Wilderness when the Devil tries to tempt Christ into turning some stones into loaves of bread (Matthew 4:3). The picture was not exhibited, though a print after it might have been shown by Long at the Society of British Artists in 1825 when a work titled ‘The Temptation in the Wilderness’ was displayed among ‘Engravings and Chalk drawings’ (no.632).

On the back of the panel there are two ink studies for the figure of the Devil along with three other fainter outlines, also in ink, of parts of figures. One of these is a note for an alternative arrangement of the Devil's wings: the others do not appear to relate to the finished picture.

The history of T04169 before it reappeared in 1972 is unknown. In his will dated 7 March 1833, Long left a number of his paintings, named and unnamed, to friends and executors, including Edward Crompton, Lloyd Hall, James and Katherine Oughton of Elm Grove, Surrey and Viscount Ingestre. A Mr G. Prendergast was also at one time singled out as a beneficiary though Long revoked this wish (PRO Prob.11.1836,521). T04169 might perhaps have passed through the hands of one of these individuals during or after Long's lifetime. (The compiler is grateful to Sherene King for help in preparing this entry.)

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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