Fifteen Etchings Dedicated to Sir Joshua Reynolds included a total of four of Mortimer’s sea monster subjects (the fourth was Musical Monster). Many of the works were inspired by Mortimer’s artistic hero, the 17th-century artist Salvator Rosa (1615-1673), including four images of sea monsters (recalling Rosa’s Battling Tritons series), and four of “banditti” (Italian outlaws also depicted by Rosa). Mortimer also adopted some of Rosa’s compositional devices and stylistic flourishes.
John Hamilton Mortimer was a British painter, draftsman and printmaker, known for history paintings, especially scenes from British history and Shakespeare. He also produced religious works and etchings in the Romantic vein. He received his early artistic training in London, studying under Thomas Hudson and at the Duke of Richmond’s Gallery, and later at the St. Martin’s Lane Academy. In 1763 he won first prize at the Society of Arts. Soon after, he was awarded a major monetary award for a painting of St. Paul Converting the Britons, which established his reputation as a history painter. Mortimer designed the Elevation of the Brazen Serpent for the great window of Salisbury Cathedral. He was a member of the Society of Artists, exhibiting with them from 1763 until 1773, when he also served as vice president.
In 1778, after exhibiting at the Royal Academy and being elected an Associate, Mortimer published Fifteen Etchings Dedicated to Sir Joshua Reynolds, the academy’s president. The set included works from different series, in different sizes, that showed Mortimer’s versatility and command of etching. Art historian William L. Pressly says the works were also carefully chosen to reflect Mortimer’s philosophy that an artist should be a spontaneous free spirit whose imaginative creations are unconstrained by rules and conventions. In that respect, Pressly says, Mortimer was aligned with other ambitious British artists of his generation who were developing the Romantic conception of the artist as an original genius, such as Henry Fuseli, James Barry and William Blake. Despite Mortimer’s defiance of the kind of mainstream taste that the Royal Academy represented, in dedicating the etchings to Reynolds, he evidently hoped to be considered for the status of full academician. He was granted that status by the king in 1779, but did not live to receive his diploma, dying after a brief illness. Today Mortimer’s works are held by numerous museums, notably the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum, which both have some of these prints in their collections, and the Tate Gallery in London.
Joseph Haynes was a British draftsman and printmaker who worked mainly in etching, occasionally in mezzotint. Born in Shrewsbury, he studied under John Hamilton Mortimer, and after his mentor’s death in 1779, he continued working for Mortimer’s widow, Jane, etching many plates from Mortimer’s pictures and sketches that Jane published in the 1780s. He also engraved pictures after Sir Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth. After a sojourn in Jamaica, he returned to Shrewsbury where he received commissions for drawings of local subjects and produced a few etched plates. After 1794 he moved to Chester, where he spent the rest of his life as a respected drawing teacher.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear handling. Margins a bit short, variously within plate marks, and slightly irregular.
“Obituary — Mr. Joseph Haynes.” The Gentleman’s Magazine. Vol 147. April 1830. p. 379.
Pressly, William L. The Artist as Original Genius: Shakespeare’s ‘Fine Frenzy’ in Late Eighteenth-Century British Art. University of Delaware Press, 2007. pp. 59-72. Online at Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=Jja48TD6IdkC (17 June 2013).
Redgrave, Samuel. A Dictionary of Artists of the English School: Painters, Sculptors, Architects, Engravers and Ornamentists. London: Longmans, Green, and Col., 1874. pp. 284-285.
Sunderland, John. John Hamilton Mortimer: His Life and Works. Walpole Society, 1986.
Williamson, George C., ed. Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers. London: G. Bell and Sons: 1930. Vol. 3, p. 374.