John Hamilton MORTIMER (Eastbourne, 1740 - London, 1779)
Among the most eccentric and imaginative artists of the 18th century in England, John Hamilton Mortimer left his native Eastbourne around 1757 to study in London, first with Thomas Hudson (where among his fellow students was Joseph Wright of Derby) and later with Robert Edge Pine, Joseph Wilton and Giovanni Battista Cipriani. Mortimer won prizes for drawing at the St. Martin’s Lane Academy between 1759 and 1762, and also attended Shipley’s art school on the Strand. He began his independent career as a history painter, exhibiting yearly from 1762 onwards at the Society of Artists, where he showed both paintings and drawings. To begin with he exhibited mainly portraits and conversation pieces, but by the 1770’s had begun painting literary, theatrical or mythological subjects, as well as scenes from early Engish history. In 1771 he worked with Francis Wheatley on one of the ceiling decorations for Brocket Hall, commissioned by Lord Melbourne. Mortimer was by this time known as an artist of prodigious ability but also of seemingly unbounded recklessness, and many stories arose of the artist becoming extremely drunk and acting strangely. Nevertheless, in 1775 he married and settled in Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, and three years later exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy. Mortimer was accepted as an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1778, three months before his early death at the age of thirty-eight.