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John Hamilton Mortimer, 1740–1779
Death on a Pale Horse
ca. 1775
Materials & Techniques:
Pen and black ink and gray ink on moderately thick, moderately textured, cream wove paper
Sheet: 24 5/8 x 18 1/2 inches (62.5 x 47 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
begging | bodies | clouds | crowns | death | dragon | dying | falling | fear | grass | hands | horse (animal) | horseback riding | mist | monsters | pleading | religious and mythological subject | running | skeletons | skulls (skeleton components) | swords | vultures
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IIIF Manifest:

Edward Edwards in his Anecdotes of Painters (1808) observed that "the favorite subjects of Mr. Mortimer's pencil, were the representations of Bandatti, or those transactions recorded in history, wherein the exertion of soldiers are principally employed, as also, incantations, the frolics of monsters, and all those kind of scenes, that personify 'Horrible Imaginings.'" One of those "Horrible Imaginings" is the elaborate drawing of Death on a Pale Horse, which Mortimer exhibited at the Society of Arts in 1775 together with a companion drawing illustrating the line from I Corinthians, 15:55 "O Death! Where is thy sting? O Grave! Where is thy victory?" After Mortimer's death, both drawings were etched by Joseph Haynes and published by Mortimer's widow Jane on January I, 1784.
Mortimer's Subject is the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelations, his imagery drawn from the famous Dürer print of the four horsemen and seventeenth-century by Stefano della Bella. A related working drawing owned by the connoisseur and critic Richard Payne Knight is in the British Museum.
If Mortimer's predilection for "Horrible Imaginings" suggests an excessive and morbid temperament, Edward's confirms that the artist was "imprudent in his conduct, and intemperate in his pleasures, by which he injured his health." Yet his taste in subject matter went beyond such personal quirkiness or pathology. His macabre and sensationalistic imagery was shared by Henry Fuseli, and Mortimer's Death on a Pale Horse is but an early instance of an apocalyptic strain in later eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century art. The subject of the Fourth Horseman was subsequently taken up by James Gilray, William Blake, and Benjamin West.

Scott Wilcox

Scott Wilcox, Line of beauty : British drawings and watercolors of the eighteenth century, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, p. 45, no. 33

It's Alive! Frankenstein at 200 (The Morgan Library & Museum, 2018-10-12 - 2019-01-27) [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]

David Bindman, William Blake : His art and times, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1982, p. 81, no. 20, NJ18 .B57 B524 (LC)+ Oversize YCBA [ORBIS]

Sarah ( Sarah Helen ) Monks, Living with the Royal Academy : artistic ideals and experiences in England, 1768-1848, Ashgate Publishing, Burlington, 2013, pp. 162-64, fig. 7.4, N332.G753 L665 2013 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Mortimer's 'Death on a Pale Horse', Burlington Magazine, 112, 1970, pp. 529-535, N1 .B87 Oversize YCBA [ORBIS]

Musée du Petit Palais, La peinture romantique anglaise et les preraphaelites : [exposition au] Petit Palais, janvier-avril, 1972, Les Presses Artistiques, Paris, 1972, no. 198, ND467 .P37 1972 YCBA [ORBIS]

Benedict Nicolson, John Hamilton Mortimer A.R.A., 1740-1779: Paintings, Drawings and Prints, Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art, London, 1968, p. 31, no 44, NJ18 M8507 N53 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Patrick Noon, A Princely Amateur, Paul Mellon and his Collection of British Drawings , Master Drawings, vol. 38, no. 3, Master Drawings Association, Inc., Fall, 2000, pp. 343-44, fig. 6, NC1 M37 (YCBA) Another copy available as item VF 2329 [YCBA]

Ulrich Raulff, Das Letzte Jahrhundert der Pferde : Geschichte einer Trennung, C.H. Beck, Munich, 2015, p. 283, SF283 .R38 2015 (YCBA) [YCBA]

J. Sunderland, John Hamilton Mortimer: His Life and Works, Volume of the Walpole Society, Vol. 52, 1986, p. 167, no. 100, fig. 176, N12 W35 A1 vol 52 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Scott Wilcox, Line of beauty : British drawings and watercolors of the eighteenth century, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, p. 45, no. 33, NC228 W53 2001 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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