Mortimer, John Hamilton (DNB00)
MORTIMER, JOHN HAMILTON (1741–1779), historical painter, was born in 1741 at Eastbourne, where his father owned a mill, and was some time collector of customs. His uncle was a painter of some ability, and the boy, showing a disposition towards art, was sent to London and placed under Thomas Hudson [q. v.], the master of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Joseph Wright (of Derby). The latter was his fellow-pupil and friend in after life. Mortimer studied at the Duke of Richmond's sculpture gallery, at the Academy in St. Martin's Lane, and also under Cipriani, Robert Edge Pine [q. v.], and Reynolds. His youthful drawings showed much ability, and he carried off the first prize of the Society of Arts for a drawing from the antique in 1763, and in the following year, in competition with Romney, the premium of one hundred guineas for the best historical picture, the subject being ' St. Paul converting the Britons.' This picture was in 1770 presented by Dr. Bates to the church of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. He became a member of the Incorporated Society of Arts, with whom he exhibited occasionally for ten years ending 1773, when he was elected vice-president. He resided in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden, and for many years was noted for the freedom and extravagance of his life. He was fond of company and sports, and vain of his personal attractions. He is said to have shattered his health by his excesses. In 1775 he married Jane Hurrell, a farmer's daughter. He now became a reformed character, and retired to Aylesbury, where he painted a series called 'The Progress of Vice,' which was well received, but a subsequent series called 'The Progress of Virtue' was less successful. In 1778 he exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy, contributing a small whole-length family group, a subject from Spenser, and some landscapes. He was elected an associate in November of the same year, when he also returned to London, taking up his residence in Norfolk Street, Strand. By special grant of George III he was created a royal academician, but before he could receive his diploma he was taken ill of fever, and, after an illness of twelve days, died 4 Feb. 1779. He was buried at High Wycombe, where his picture of the 'Conversion of the Britons' still exists, though it has been removed from the church to the town-hall, and has undergone restoration by H. Lovegrove.
Nine of Mortimer's works were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1799 after his death, in accordance with his wishes. They comprised ' The Battle of Agincourt,' 'Vortigern and Rowena,' a small landscape, and some washed drawings. In the South Kensington Museum there is a picture by Mortimer of 'Hercules slaying the Hydra,' as well as two water-colours, but his pictures are now rarely met with, and he is best known by his etchings, which are executed in a bold, free style, and show a preference for subjects of terror and wildromance. They are picturesque and spirited, but have a strong tendency to the extravagant and theatrical. Some of them are studies of figures of banditti, &c., after Salvator Rosa and others, but the majority are original, and include twelve plates of characters from Shakespeare, and 'Nature and Genius introducing Garrick into the Temple of Shakespeare.' Among his other works may be mentioned a ceiling in Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire, executed for Lord Melbourne, the design of 'The Elevation of the Brazen Serpent' for the great window in Salisbury Cathedral, and some stained glass at Brasenose College, Oxford. He also designed some illustrations for 'Bell's Theatre' and 'Bell's Poets.'
Some of his best designs were etched by Blyth. His picture of 'The Battle of Agincourt' was engraved by W. W. Ryland, and his own portrait of himself was mezzotinted
by Valentine Green, and etched by R. Blyth. The latter is now in the National Portrait Gallery. In the diploma gallery of the Royal Academy is a portrait of Mortimer by Richard Wilson.
[Redgrave's Diet. ; Kedgraves' Century of Painters; Bryan's Dict. ed. Graves and Armstrong ; Algernon Graves's Diet. ; Wine and Walnuts ; Bemrose's Life of Wright of Derby ; Notes and Queries, v. 108, &c., vi. 156, &c. ; Cunningham's Lives, ed. Heaton ; Pilkington's Dict. ; Edwards's Anecdotes ; Cunningham's Cabinet Gallery of Pictures.]