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Portrait, Mezzotint, William Henry West Betty, James Northcote, Antique Print, London, 1805


James Northcote, R.A. (1746-1831) (after)
James Ward (1769-1859) (engraver)
Wm. Henry West Betty, Aetates Suae 13
Colnaghi & Co., London: 1805
Mezzotint, uncolored
14.75 x 11 inches

Portrait of William Henry West Betty (1791-1874) a tremendously popular English actor who was the subject of fame akin to Beatlemania during his youth, when he was known as “the young Roscius” (Roscius was a great actor of ancient Rome). He began his stage career in Belfast at age 12. Success came rapidly, and his precocity became legendary — it was said that in three hours of study he had committed the part of Hamlet to memory, and he was favorably compared with some of the greatest tragedians. At his first appearance at Covent Garden in 1804, troops had to be called out to preserve order among the great crowd trying to obtain admittance. During this stage of his career he was handsomely paid and socially successful, with George III himself presenting him to the queen, and Pitt upon one occasion adjourning the House of Commons that members might be in time for his performance. As he outgrew the “boy actor” persona, his popularity waned and in 1808 he entered Christ’s College, Cambridge. His attempted comeback four years later was unsuccessful, so he retired with the large fortune that he had amassed as a prodigy.

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Print is subtitled: “From the first and only original portrait in the possession of Thos. Lister Parker, Esqr.”

James Northcote was an English painter and writer. Arriving in London in 1771 a self-taught artist, he entered the Royal Academy Schools and joined the eminent painter Joshua Reynolds as a pupil and assistant. He remained with Reynolds until 1776, during which time he exhibited portraits at the Royal Academy. Reynolds remained a major stylistic influence on Northcote through much of his career. Northcote’s historically valuable Memoirs of Sir Joshua Reynolds were published in 1813.

James Ward was primarily a painter, but also an engraver and printer who served as painter and mezzotint engraver to the Prince of Wales in 1794. The most important animal painter of his generation, he also produced portraits, landscapes, genre and history paintings. Ward exhibited at the Royal Academy over a long career from 1792 to 1855, and was made an academician there in 1811. He spent much of his career in London, later moving to Cheshunt.

Condition: Generally very good with the usual toning, wear, soiling, soft creases. A rich impression. Sheet trimmed close to image on sides and top, as is often the case with separately issued 18th-century mezzotint portraits.


“James Northcote.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan. 2000. Online at (7 May 2002).

“James Ward.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan. 2000. Online at (7 May 2002).

Maxted, Ian. “The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members.” Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History. U.K.: Devon Library and Information Services. 2001. (7 May 2002).

“William Henry West Betty.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Ed., Vol. III. Cambridge: University Press, 1910. p. 832-3. Online at (7 May 2002).

Additional information


19th Century