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John Hamilton Mortimer

A nude

Full screen

Pencil heightened with white chalk
11 ⅛ × 18 ½ inches · 282 × 470 mm
Inscribed ‘WYO Mortimer’ bottom left
Another study verso
Drawn c. 1770
  • Probably Sir William Forbes 7th Bt. of Pittsligo (1773-1828); 
  • thence by descent at Fettercairn House, Kincardineshire to 2017. 

This bold, characteristic life drawing was made by John Hamilton Mortimer towards the end of his career. Fluently worked in black chalk on buff coloured paper, the double-sided drawing of a reclining female nude underscores Mortimer’s lifelong interest in academies and was probably made at the Society of Artists own academy in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden of which he was a prominent founder and participant.

John Hamilton Mortimer was a painter and etcher born in Eastbourne, Sussex. Apprenticed to the fashionable portraitist, Thomas Hudson.  Mortimer was by March 1759 working under Robert Edge Pine, a history painter and portraitist of republican views who later moved to America. But as John Sunderland has pointed out, Hudson and Paine had relatively little impact on Mortimer’s early development; it was his work drawing in the Duke of Richmond’s sculpture gallery, access to the St Martin’s Lane Academy and Shipley’s Drawing Academy which had the greater impact. Mortimer won prizes offered by the Society of the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, for drawings made after casts in the Duke of Richmond’s sculpture gallery and life drawings made in the Great St Martin’s Lane Academy.[1]

The latter – along with a number of drawings in the collection of the Royal Academy and Victoria and Albert Museum – are hesitant, student works made in the 1750s. In contrast the present drawing shows a mature confidence and almost certainly belongs to a small group of life drawings that Mortimer made at the academy founded by the Society of Artists in 1769. Faced with the challenge of the newly founded Royal Academy of Arts, which had appropriated the equipment of the St Martin’s Lane Academy, the Society of Artists decided to found its own academy. Mortimer was one of the artists deputed to serve on the Academy Committee; along with Ozias Humphry, George Stubbs, Joseph Wright of Derby and Johan Zoffany, he was chosen to set the models for the students.[2] Premises were found in the former auction rooms of John Moreing, where the Free Society had held its exhibitions in 1765 and 1766, in Maiden Lane. Mortimer supplied a lay figure and provision was made for both male and female life models.

The present drawing was almost certainly made by Mortimer when he was responsible for setting the model at the Maiden Lane Academy. The pose of the reclining female model – her left hand drawn over her head - is loosely based upon the Belvedere Cleopatra in the Vatican. Mortimer’s drawing is confidently modelled, the contours of the body having been carefully strengthened, although it is clear this a working study; a second, fragmentary drawing of the same model in the same pose is on the verso of the sheet. A drawing on the same paper and of the same size, formerly with Lowell Libson Ltd, is in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven. That life drawing, which depicts a reclining male model, is inscribed by Mortimer’s friend and colleague, Ozias Humphry with the date 1773 confirming that these drawings were made at Maiden Lane. The present sheet is important evidence of the Society of Artists short lived academy and of Mortimer’s continued interest in artistic training. 


  1. John Sutherland, ‘John Hamilton Mortimer: His Life and Works’, The Walpole Society, vol.52, 1986, pp.5-11. 
  2. John Sutherland, ‘John Hamilton Mortimer: His Life and Works’, The Walpole Society, vol.52, 1986, p.26.