James Northcote, Thomas Mudge

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All rights reserved)


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


Thomas Mudge Junior (1760–1843) was the elder son of Thomas Mudge Senior (1717–1794) and grandson of Zachariah Mudge (TN29). Thomas Mudge Senior was an eminent watchmaker and the inventor of the lever escapement for the pocket watch. On his retirement in 1771 he became watchmaker to George III. According to Northcote’s Account Book the present portrait was commissioned in 1782: ‘Mr Thomas Mudge Junr for Mr. Rosdew – paid 7.17.6 and frame 2.12.6’.1 Richard Rosdew was the husband of Thomas Mudge Senior’s sister, Jenny Mudge.

Thomas Mudge Junior was a staunch supporter of his father in later life, notably in his acrimonious dispute with the Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne, concerning the accuracy of his marine chronometers.2 He was well qualified to protect his father’s professional interests, given his career as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn. Following his success in gaining recognition for his father’s marine chronometers, and financial compensation of £3000 from the Admiralty, Mudge Junior went on to set up a business replicating them, one of which was purchased by the architect John Soane.3 Another, in the collection of the Royal Museums, Greenwich, is inscribed on the plate, ‘No. 4. Howells and Pennington, FOR Thomas Mudge 1795’.4 Ultimately, the venture proved a financial failure and Mudge ceased production.

In later years Thomas Mudge Junior lived on the island of Jersey, before moving to Bath in 1830. During this time he kept in touch with Northcote, corresponding with him over the proposed sale of family portraits, as well as sending him specimens of his poetry.5 Mudge also commissioned at least two portraits from Northcote. The first portrait, commissioned in 1796 and exhibited at the Royal Academy the same year, was of Hans Moritz, Count Bruhl (1736–1809), minister from Saxony to London and purchaser of one of Mudge Junior’s marine chronometers.6 The second portrait, commissioned in 1812 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1814, was of Sir Marc Isambard Brunel (1769–1849), civil engineer and Mudge’s business partner.7 Thomas Mudge Junior was also related to Marc Brunel by marriage, since his wife, Elizabeth Kingdom, was the sister of Brunel’s wife, Sophia, and the aunt of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Mudge presumably met his wife in Plymouth, where her father, William Kingdom, worked as a naval contractor.

Stamford Raffles Flint refers to a portrait of Thomas Mudge (1743–1782), son of Dr John Mudge. ‘This picture, when hanging over a mantelpiece in a bedroom, unfortunately caught fire and was burnt. There was sufficient of the features remaining, in what was rescued from the flames, for James Northcote to make an excellent copy of the picture, which is extant’.8 There is, however, no reliable record of a painting by Reynolds of Thomas Mudge, but only of his brother, John, who sat to Reynolds for his portrait in 1758.9 It is possible, therefore, that the painting – apparently damaged at Beechwood, the home of Richard Rosdew – was the present portrait, since close examination of the area around the sitter’s head suggests that it has been repainted and may even be on a separate canvas. Northcote may therefore have repainted his own portrait of 1782, rather than a portrait of John Mudge’s son, also Thomas Mudge, by Reynolds.10

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. 118

Algernon Graves and William Vine Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds P.R.A., 1–4, London : Henry Graves and Co., 1899–1901, vol. 4, p. 1374


  1. Simon, 1996, p. 46, no. 143.

  2. Flint, 1883, pp. 43–53. See also ‘Papers regarding the public trials and improvements of clocks and chronometers, 1779–1826’, Cambridge Digital Library, University of Cambridge, RGO 14/23, (accessed 11 August 2017).

  3. Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, NDR4

  4. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, Object ID ZAA0133.

  5. Flint, 1883, pp. 63–4.

  6. Petworth House, West Sussex, NT 486299. See Simon, 1996, pp. 65–6, no. 317.

  7. National Portrait Gallery, NPG 978. See Simon, 1996, p. 95, no. 567.

  8. Flint, 1883, p. 118. The account is repeated in Graves and Cronin, 1899–1901, vol. 4, p. 1374. In an MS notebook, n.d., at Trewithen, Flint states that Reynolds painted the portrait in 1758.

  9. Mannings and Postle, 2000, vol. 1, p. 346, no. 1309.

  10. Beechwood, in Plympton St Mary, Devon, was built by Rosdew in 1797. The painting was therefore presumably damaged at some point between 1797 and Northcote’s death in 1831.


Related catalogue items from Trewithen

  • Castle Howard Trewithen

    Figures in a Stormy Landscape

    circle of Julius Caesar Ibbetson, ? c.1790s

  • Castle Howard Trewithen

    Portrait of an Unknown Man

    British School, ? c.1750–60

  • Castle Howard Trewithen

    Cattle and Figures in Rome

    follower of Nicolaes Berchem