James Northcote, Dr John Mudge

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All rights reserved)


Country House
Dr John Mudge
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 74 cm, Overall width: 61 cm
James Northcote (1746-1831)
Catalogue Number


This is a copy by James Northcote after Joshua Reynolds’s portrait of Dr John Mudge (1721–1793), the youngest son of Reynolds’s early mentor, the Reverend Zachariah Mudge (see TN29). Reynolds had painted the original portrait probably in 1752, during a visit to Plymouth, immediately following his return from Italy (fig. 1). Mudge had known Reynolds since boyhood, when they had both been pupils at Plympton Grammar School, where Reynolds’s father, the Reverend Samuel Reynolds, was headmaster. While Reynolds moved from Plymouth to London, John Mudge remained, establishing a career as a distinguished surgeon and physician. In 1777, in recognition of his work on the design and manufacture of the reflecting telescope, he became a fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1784 was awarded the degree of MD by King’s College, Aberdeen.

circa 1752-53. Oil on canvas, 76 × 63.5 cm. Private Collection.

Figure 1.
Sir Joshua Reynolds, Dr John Mudge, circa 1752-53. Oil on canvas, 76 × 63.5 cm. Private Collection.

Digital image courtesy of Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive (PA-F02453-0133). (CC BY-NC 4.0)

In addition to his life-long friendship with Reynolds, John Mudge was a friend of James Northcote, whose own family in Plymouth was also close to the Mudges. In 1771 John Mudge provided Northcote with a letter of introduction to Reynolds, when he approached him as a prospective pupil, as well as offering him financial support.1 In 1775 Northcote presented Mudge with a copy of Reynolds’s portrait of Leonard Smelt, which he had commissioned from Reynolds in 1755. As Mudge noted in a letter to Northcote, dated 29 January 1775, it was ‘so very good a one, that, if you had pleased, you might have kept the original, and palmed off the copy upon me; for, except the advantage the former has from the mellowness of tone, which is only discoverable when the two are by the side of each other, I protest I should not have known yours from the original’.2 The same commendation might be made about the present copy by Northcote, which is close in appearance and technique to Reynolds’s original portrait. The principal difference relates to condition, for as it was noted of Reynolds’s portrait in the mid-nineteenth century, ‘the carnations have utterly disappeared, leaving the head as modelled in the first stage of painting in little more than tones of black and white’.3

Northcote recorded the present copy of John Mudge’s portrait in his Account Book in a list of pictures painted in 1808: ‘Mr Richard Rosdew, made a Copy of the/ portrait of Dr Mudge from S. J. Reynolds for him/Twenty Guineas’.4 Richard Rosdew was the husband of Jenny Mudge (1761–1818), the sitter’s daughter. As with other portraits by Northcote now at Trewithen, the picture passed to her nephew, Richard Zachariah Mudge (1789–1854), descending through marriage to the Flint family, to Alison Raffles Flint (1890–1978), who married George Horace Johnstone (1882–1960), who in 1904 inherited Trewithen from his father.

Dr Mudge remained in contact with Northcote for the remainder of his life, and in 1786 Northcote painted his portrait for Mudge’s son-in-law, the Reverend James Yonge, an engraving of which by Samuel William Reynolds was published in 1795 (fig. 2).5 Here, Northcote effectively reprised the earlier portrait, portraying Mudge, now in his mid-sixties, in a similar soft cap, before a drape, with his arm resting on an open book. An impression of the engraving is included in the inventory of Trewithen taken in March 1928: ‘Another [mezzotint] of John Mudge M.D. and F.R.S. by S.W. Reynolds, open letter proof’. The same inventory located the present portrait in the Drawing Room. It was described as ‘James Northcote R.A. 1746–1831 – John Mudge Esq 1721–1794, half length in Academical costume perusing MSS – 30in by 25in’.

John Mudge. M.D. and F.R.S. From an Original Picture by Northcote in the possession of the Revd. James Yonge of Puslinch

Figure 2.
S. W. Reynolds after James Northcote, John Mudge. M.D. and F.R.S. From an Original Picture by Northcote in the possession of the Revd. James Yonge of Puslinch, 1795. Mezzotint engraving, 27.8 × 22.4 cm. Wellcome Collection (no. 7073i).

Digital image courtesy of Wellcome Collection. (CC BY-NC 4.0)

by Martin Postle


Stamford Raffles-Flint, Mudge Memoirs: being a record of Zachariah Mudge, and some members of his family; together with a genealogical list of the same. Compiled from Family Papers & Other Sources, Truro : Netherton & Worth, 1883, p. 259

Stephen Gwynn, Memorials of an Eighteenth Century Painter (James Northcote), London : T. Fisher Unwin, 1898, p. 280, no. 476, ‘Dr Mudge (a copy for Rosden)’ [sic]

Jacob Simon, The Account Book of James Northcote, 58, The Walpole Society, 1996, p. 87, no. 497

David Mannings and Martin Postle, Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2 vols., New Haven and London : Yale University Press, 2000, p. 346, no. 1308a


  1. Gwynn, 1898, pp. 39–40, 54–5; Flint, 1883, p. 98.

  2. Flint, 1883, p. 102.

  3. Leslie and Taylor, 1865, vol. 1, p. 89 n. 1.

  4. Simon, 1996, p. 87, no. 497.

  5. Ibid., p. 57, no. 242.


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