James Jefferys

James Jefferys, by James Jefferys, circa 1774-1775 -NPG 4669 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

James Jefferys

by James Jefferys
circa 1774-1775
19 1/2 in. x 16 3/4 in. (495 mm x 425 mm)
NPG 4669

This portraitback to top

NPG 4669 was sold in 1969 with a companion drawing (now in the Yale Center for British Art; B1977.14.6227), [1] showing the artist from behind in the act of writing a letter, a youthful credo:

'Hond Sir - July 26 - I flatter myself I have abilities for the Art of Painting wch I hope will appear by the Drawing I send you, but indeed there are so many young Persons pursuing the same Art, that I think it will be a prudent Step to drop it intirely, & get into any kind of Business you shall think, proper, I make no doubt but you will comply with my desire more especially when you inform yourself how much the Proffession is disgrac’d by the Folly and Vice of many of the Proffessors.'
This letter, addressed to Brenchley, the artist’s patron in Maidstone, [2] together with the books carefully displayed in NPG 4669, defines a proud, young history painter, who could add the word ‘Youthful’ to a Shakespearean quotation to increase its pertinence. In each portrait the artist is shown with a historical drawing (The Massacre of the Innocents and Pride led by the Passions, from Spenser’s Faery Queen). Such evidence implies that both portraits date from the ambitious, earlier part of Jefferys’ short career, just prior to his departure for Italy in July 1775.
Both portrait drawings had been sold in 1969 as by J. H. Mortimer, whose manner they closely imitate. Even the Shakespearean quotation had been (accurately) used by Mortimer beneath his etching, Poet, published in May 1775 (an image comparable with NPG 4669), [3] and the possible derivation of NPG 4669 from a self-portrait by Salvator Rosa is wholly within the Mortimer tradition. [4] But the discovery of the work of James Jefferys in 1976 [5] led to a convincing reattribution, as was carefully described by John Sunderland in 1977 and Nancy Pressly in 1979. [6]

Footnotesback to top

1) See P. J. Noon, English Drawings & Miniatures, New Haven, 1979, no.71.
2) The name written on the drawing in front of the artist; John Brenchley (1725-91) a Maidstone brewer.
3) The original, reversed, drawing (Huntington Library, San Marino) illus. J. Sunderland, 'John Hamilton Mortimer, his Life and Works', Wal. Soc., LII, 1986, fig.160.
4) Sunderland (Burl. Mag., CXII, 1970, pp 526, 528, 531), cites as a possible source a portrait by Salvator now in the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL (as A Poet).
5) T. Clifford & S. Legouix, Burl. Mag., CXVIII, 1976, pp 148-57.
6) Sunderland, Burl. Mag., CXIX, 1977 pp 279-81; Pressly, in the Fuseli Circle in Rome, New Haven, 1979 (82).

Referenceback to top

Sunderland 1986
J. Sunderland, ‘John Hamilton Mortimer, his Life and Works’, Wal. Soc., LII, 1986, p 221 (R15, as not by Mortimer).

Sunderland 1969
J. Sunderland, Burl. Mag., CXI, 1969, p 518 (as Mortimer).

Sunderland 1970
J. Sunderland, Burl. Mag., CXII, 1970, pp 526, 528, 531 (as Mortimer).

Sunderland 1977
J. Sunderland, Burl. Mag., CXIX, 1977, pp 279-81 (as of Jefferys and probably by him).

Physical descriptionback to top

Wearing a fanciful seventeenth-century costume and drawing a Biblical subject, the Massacre of the Innocents; the standing books are titled (from the left): NATURE SPENCER[sic] MILTON HOMER; above them an open book inscribed on the fore-edge: ADDISON on the Pleasures of the Imagination, and on a leaf: Paper iv & v/on Greatness; leaning against these volumes another inscribed [SHA]KESPEARE Midsummer Night’s Dream and, below, And as the Youthful Imagination bodies/forth the forms of things [unknown];1a separate, later, inscription, in the bottom right margin: Pen & Ink drawing by Mortimer.

1 Midsummer Night’s Dream, V, I, 14-15; Youthful is the artist’s addition.

Provenanceback to top

[Probably John Newington Hughes sale, Sotheby’s, 18 February 1848, either lot 53 ‘Masterly Pen Sketches, Anatomical Studies, by Mortimer 33’, or lot 57 ‘Pen and other Sketches, by Mortimer, and others 13’];1 George Hilder Libbis; Miss Nell Hilder Libbis; Sotheby’s, 13 March 1969, lot 67, bought Colnaghi, from whom purchased with the aid of the National Art Collections Fund 1969.

1 John Newington Hughes (1776-1847), a Kentish antiquary and twice mayor of Maidstone, was said to own drawings Jefferys made at Rome ‘and other pen drawings’ (see T. Clifford & S. Legouix, Burl. Mag., CXVIII, 1976, p 153); none appeared in his sale, but, for example, NPG 4669 is inscribed Mortimer.

Exhibitionsback to top

British Romantic Painting, Paris, 1972 (195 as Mortimer); British Portraits, Tokyo, 1975; Fuseli Circle in Rome, New Haven, 1979 (82 as Jefferys); Artists at Work 1981-82 (28); Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, Tulsa, Miami, Washington, Ottawa, NPG, Manchester, Carlisle, Canterbury, 1993-95 (29); Face to Face, Liverpool, 1994 (24).

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, National Portrait Gallery, 2004, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

View all known portraits for James Jefferys