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Creator:
James Jefferys, 1751–1784
formerly attributed to John Hamilton Mortimer, 1740–1779
Title:

Self-Portrait

Date:
between 1771 and 1775
Materials & Techniques:
Pen and brown ink on moderately thick, moderately textured, cream laid paper
Dimensions:
Sheet: 21 1/4 x 16 3/8 inches (54 x 41.6 cm)
Inscription(s)/Marks/Lettering:

Inscribed in artist's hand in pen and brown ink upper right: "To Mr Bren[...]"; in pen and brown ink upper right: "Pride led by the | Passions a Design from Spensers | Faery Queen"; in pen and brown ink center right: "Hon'd 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 . - "; in pen and brown ink lower left: "Rara avis in terra"' in pen and brown ink lower center: "But who can paint this Character as it ought | Tho' Wisdom cryeth out in the Streets yet | [ . . . ] "in pen and brown ink lower right: "Pen & Ink Drawing by Mortimer"; inscribed on back in graphite upper center: "13"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1977.14.6227
Classification:
Drawings & Watercolors
Collection:
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
bottles | curls | drawings | Grand Tour | hair | ink bottles | letters (correspondence) | man | oval | pens | portrait | quill (feather) | quills | self-portraits
Associated People:
Jefferys, James (1751–1784), historical draughtsman
Access:
Accessible by appointment in the Study Room [Request]
Note: The Study Room is open by appointment. Please visit the Study Room page on our website for more details.
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:15222
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This drawing is one of a pair that were traditionally considered to be self-portraits by John Hamilton Mortimer, to whom Jefferys was close. In 1977, however, John Sunderland suggested persuasively that they were both of and by Jefferys, evidencing the age of the sitter (Mortimer was some ten years older), the close stylistic affinities with Jefferys’s known work, and, most significantly, the clear reference of the drawing in the background to “Pride Led by the Passions” (Maidstone Museum and Art Gallery), a drawing firmly attributed to Jefferys. Sunderland’s identification of sitter and maker is now accepted.
The drawings depict front and back views of the artist, like two sides of a coin, and present contrasting aspects of the artistic life: disaffection and creativity. In the Center's drawing, Jefferys, wearing seventeenth-century costume and with romantically disheveled hair, holds a letter, apparently addressed to his godfather and early patron John Brenchley, in which he threatens to renounce his chosen profession. The inscription in the lower margin, “Rara avis in terra,” meaning “a rare bird on the earth,” is a quotation from the Roman satiric poet Juvenal, alluding, though perhaps not unironically, to Jefferys’s exceptional gifts and special status as a creative artist.
The companion drawing, now in the National Portrait Gallery, London, shows the youthful genius with “porte-crayon” in hand, momentarily pausing from his labors on a drawing of the Massacre of the Innocents to confront his audience (which presumably might include his "Professors," whose "Folly and Vice" he castigates in the inscription on the Center's drawing) with his intense stare.
Although Jefferys’s portrayal of himself as a young misunderstood genius is very beguiling, there is clearly a strong element of posturing in these self-portraits, as Jefferys’s career in fact began extremely well. The artist did not live to fulfill his youthful promise, however (in this respect his self-portraits seem to have been somewhat prophetic), and he died in London at the age of thirty-two, allegedly having wasted his considerable talents through dissipation.

Gillian Forrester

Baskett, John, Jules David Prown, Duncan Robinson, Brian Allen, and William Reese. Paul Mellon's Legacy: A Passion for British Art. New Haven : Yale Center for British Art , 2007, cat. no. 59



Artists in the eighteenth century often made self-portraits to explore and fashion their personal artistic identities. Cat. 149 [B1977.14.6227] is on of a pair of self portraits by the little-known historical draftsman James Jefferys and formerly attributed to John Hamilton Mortimer (see cat. 330). The drawings depict front and back views of the artist, like two sides of a coin, and present contrasting aspects of the artistic life: disaffection and creativity. In the Center's drawing the romantically disheveled Jefferys holds a letter, apparently addressed to his godfather and early patron John Brenchly, which renounces his chosen profession. The inscription from the Juvenal in the lower margin, "Rara avis in terra' meaning, "a rare bird on the earth," alludes to Jefferys' exceptional gifts and special status as a creative artist. The companion drawing, now in the National Portrait Gallery, London, shows the youthful genius with porte-crayon in hand, momentarily pausing from his labors on a drawing of the Massacre of the Innocents, as if receiving inspiration.
Although Jefferys’ portrayal of himself as a misunderstood genius is very beguiling, there is a strong element of posturing in these self-portraits. Jefferys’ career in fact began extremely well; in 1774 he was awarded prizes for historical drawings from the Society of Arts and the Royal Academy, and the following year he won one of the first traveling scholarships of the Society of Dilettanti with the support of Joshua Reynolds. Jefferys did not live to fulfill his youthful promise, however (in this respect his self portraits seem to have been somewhat prophetic), and he died in London at the age of thirty-two.

Gillian Forrester

Wilcox, Forrester, O'Neil, Sloan. The Line of Beauty: British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2001. pg. 176 cat. no. 149

The Critique of Reason : Romantic Art, 1760–1860 (Yale University Art Gallery, 2015-03-06 - 2015-07-26) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Royal Academy of Arts, 2007-10-20 - 2008-01-27) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Line of Beauty : British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-05-19 - 2001-08-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Show and Tell (Grey Art Gallery & Study Center, 1988-09-13 - 1988-10-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

English Portrait Drawings & Miniatures (Yale Center for British Art, 1979-12-05 - 1980-02-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Fuseli Circle in Rome - Early Romantic Art in the 1770s (Yale Center for British Art, 1979-09-12 - 1979-11-11) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

John Baskett, English drawings and watercolors, 1550-1850, in the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon , The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 1972, pp. 34-5, no. 46, NC228 B37+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, pp. 269-70, no. 59, pl. 59, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Patrick Noon, English Portrait Drawings & Miniatures, Yale Center for British Art, 1979, pp. 65-6, no. 71, NC772 N66+ (Wall Shelf) (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 2, no. 58, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Nancy L. Pressly, The Fuseli circle in Rome : Early Romantic art of the 1770s, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1979, pp. 84-5, no. 83, N6425 .N4 P73 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Rogers, Master drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, 1993, p. 54, fig. 17, NC772 .R64 1993 + Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Show & Tell : Artists' illustrated letters, Grey Art Gallery & Study Center, New York, 1988, pp. 4-5, unnumbered, NC53 .S46 1988 + Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Sotheby's sale catalogue : Fine eighteenth and nineteenth century drawings : 13 March 1969, Sotheby's, March 13, 1969, p. 19, lot 68, Auction Catalogues (YCBA)

J. Sunderland, Two self-portraits by James Jefferys?, Burlington Magazine, vol. 119, April 1977, pp. 279-80, nos. 77 & 78, N1 .B87 Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Scott Wilcox, Line of beauty : British drawings and watercolors of the eighteenth century, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, pp. 176-7, no. 149, NC228 W53 2001 (YCBA) [YCBA]


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