Patrons and Painters: Portraits by Joshua Reynolds and James Northcote at Trewithen

Essay by Martin Postle


Among the pictures in the collection at Trewithen are two portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds and four by his pupil James Northcote. The portraits feature for the most part members of the Mudge family and were painted in Plymouth, the home of the Mudges and the birthplace of both Reynolds and Northcote, and in London. The group comprises portraits of the cleric Zachariah Mudge and of his wife Elizabeth by Joshua Reynolds; portraits by Northcote of the astronomer James Ferguson and Thomas Mudge, as well as Northcote’s self-portrait and his copy of Reynolds’s portrait of John Mudge. These portraits remain virtually unknown beyond Trewithen and those acquainted with the house and its collection. Nor have they been subjected to any significant research in the modern period. The intention here is to explain the context for their creation and the light they shed on an important source of local patronage, which had a lasting impact on the careers of Reynolds and his pupil James Northcote.

Although the portraits feature prominently in the displays at Trewithen today, in the Dining Room and the Oak Room, it was only in the twentieth century that they found their way to Trewithen. In the later eighteenth century they had passed from the Reverend Zachariah Mudge’s youngest son, Dr John Mudge (1721–1793), to his youngest daughter, Jane (‘Jenny’) Mudge (1761–1818), who in 1783 married Richard Rosdew of Beechwood near Plympton. From Jenny Mudge, who died childless, the collection passed to her nephew, Richard Zachariah Mudge (1789–1854), who moved to Beechwood on the death of Richard Rosdew. Following the death of Richard Mudge, the picture collection was divided. A number of portraits, including a self-portrait by Reynolds, were bequeathed by Mudge’s widow to her daughter, Sophia Elizabeth Mudge (b. 1819).1 Those now at Trewithen passed to the other daughter, Jenny Rosdew Mudge (1818–1883), who in 1845 married the Reverend William Charles Raffles Flint (1819–1884), nephew of Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore.

In 1859, in an act of conspicuous philanthropy, William Charles Raffles Flint donated Sir Stamford Raffles’s celebrated Indonesian ethnographic collection to the British Museum. His own family collection passed to his son, the Venerable Stamford Raffles Flint (1847–1925). It was through the publication of his book Mudge Memoirs in 1883 that Flint became de facto the Mudge family historian.2 By that time the Mudge portraits were hung at Flint’s home, Nansawsan House, which had been built for him in the 1870s when serving as curate at Ladock, Cornwall. In 1910 Stamford Raffles Flint’s daughter Alison Raffles Flint (1890–1978) married George Horace Johnstone (1882–1960). The Mudge pictures, which passed to Alison, were moved from Nansawsan House to Trewithen, which George Johnstone had inherited from his father, John Heyward Johnstone.3 The pictures descended once more through the female line, when Jennifer, daughter of George Johnstone and Alison Raffles Flint, married Sir John Edgar Galsworthy (1919–1992), father of Michael Galsworthy (b. 1944). Recently, responsibility for running Trewithen has passed from Michael to his eldest son, Sam (b. 1976) and his wife Kitty, who have made it their home.

The circuitous line of descent from the Mudges of Plymouth to Michael Galsworthy of Trewithen is worth recalling, not simply as an exercise in tracing provenance but because it serves as a reminder that collections can change hands and locations over surprisingly short periods of time. It also underlines the point that at Trewithen, as with many other country houses, what appears to be on the surface a homogenous collection of portraits conceals quite varied display and ownership histories, and that the individuals whose images are displayed on the same walls today may have been strangers in their own lifetimes. The Mudge portraits seem perfectly at home in the bucolic environs of Trewithen, Cornwall. However, they originated in a contrasting metropolitan environment, some fifty miles away, in the bustling city of Plymouth, Devon.

The relationship between Joshua Reynolds and his pupil James Northcote is well charted, through the biography of Reynolds, which Northcote penned in the early nineteenth century, his own memoir – published posthumously towards the end of the nineteenth century – and his ‘conversations’ with the writer William Hazlitt.4 Collectively, these publications provide a detailed and often colourful picture of Northcote’s close association with Reynolds, notably during the time he lived with him as his pupil in London during the early to mid-1770s. Study of the present portraits provides a window into the world in which that relationship was fostered, and the pivotal role of the Mudge family in shaping the fortunes and friendships of Reynolds and Northcote.

Zachariah Mudge

The earliest in the group of paintings under discussion is Reynolds’s portrait of Zachariah Mudge (TN29). As a young man, Mudge, who came from a Presbyterian family, attended Exeter Grammar School. Having trained subsequently as a non-conformist minister, he found employment at a school run by Joshua Reynolds’s grandfather in Exeter, where he also formed a friendship with Reynolds’s father, Samuel. Under the influence of Samuel Reynolds, Mudge became a priest in the Anglican Church, and in 1732 was appointed vicar of St Andrew’s, Plymouth, among the most lucrative parishes in Devon. Four years later he was also appointed prebendary of Exeter Cathedral, where he established a reputation through his published sermons.

By the time Reynolds got to know him during his youth, Zachariah Mudge was a man of considerable influence and power. Reynolds, not unnaturally, regarded him as mentor and kept in touch with him when he moved to London in 1740 to pursue his career as a painter. Some years later, in the summer of 1762, when Reynolds himself had established a reputation as the leading portraitist in the metropolis, he visited Plymouth with Samuel Johnson, who had by then assumed the role of Reynolds’s mentor in adulthood. It was in the course of this memorable visit that Mudge gained the enduring respect and friendship of Johnson. While in Plymouth, Reynolds and Johnson stayed with Zachariah Mudge’s son John. They also paid a visit to Zachariah Mudge’s residence. It was there that Mudge’s wife upbraided Johnson for demanding another cup of tea, after he had already had seventeen: ‘“what! another, Dr. Johnson?”, queried Mrs Mudge; to which Johnson responded curtly, “Madam, you are rude.”’5 Mrs Mudge’s teapot (fig. 1) is now at Trewithen, having passed down through the Mudge family with her husband’s portrait.

Silver teapot, formerly belonging to Zachariah Mudge

Figure 1.
Silver teapot, formerly belonging to Zachariah Mudge, Trewithen.

Digital image courtesy of Trewithen. (All rights reserved)

Although Zachariah Mudge was resident in Plymouth, both he and his son John regularly visited London. Reynolds recorded the name ‘Mr. Mudge’ in his pocket book on several occasions during the early to mid-1760s, although which Mudge he was referring to at any one time is open to question. We can be certain, however, that it was on one such visit to London by Zachariah Mudge that Reynolds painted his portrait. David Mannings, who has catalogued the portrait, dates it to around 1761–2.6 It may, however, have been painted as late as 1766, when Mudge’s son noted in his diary that his mother and father had visited London, ‘1766 Tuesday, April 8th. My father set out for London at noon. . . . Thursday June 5th. My father and Mrs. Mudge returned from London. . . . 1767 Monday March 9th. Received my Father’s picture from London.’7 The picture in question, possibly commissioned by John Mudge, is almost certainly the portrait now at Trewithen, and the prime version.8 The slight delay in dispatching it may be accounted for by the production of a mezzotint after it by James Watson, who regularly produced engravings of Reynolds’s more prestigious portraits (fig. 2). The print, which is undated, was commissioned probably by Reynolds as a mark of respect as well as a desire to promote Mudge’s reputation on the national stage.

undated. Mezzotint engraving, 33.2 × 22.8 cm. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.12865).

Figure 2.
James Watson after Joshua Reynolds, The Revd. Mr. Zachariah Mudge Prebend of Exeter, undated. Mezzotint engraving, 33.2 × 22.8 cm. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.12865).

Digital image courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. (CC BY-NC 4.0)

In the painting Reynolds portrays Mudge, in his late sixties, bewigged in clerical robes, deep in thought; his hand grasps his chin in the manner of a man of intellect. It forms a marked contrast to the portrait by Reynolds of his much younger wife, which hangs as a pendant in the Dining Room at Trewithen (fig. 3; see also TN30). Zachariah Mudge was married twice. His first wife, Mary Fox, who had vexed Johnson during tea at the vicarage in Plymouth, was the mother of five of Mudge’s children, including Reynolds’s close friend John Mudge and Thomas Mudge, the celebrated watch and clockmaker. The date of Mary’s death is unknown, but it was some time before 1764 when Mudge apparently married his second wife, Elizabeth Neell, the sitter in the present portrait.9 There is no record of her having sat to Reynolds, although the portrait may have been made around the same time as that of her husband, during one of their London sojourns. As Northcote later recalled, Reynolds ‘had them at his house for weeks, and even sometimes gave up his own bed-room to receive them’.10 Stylistically and technically Mrs Mudge’s portrait is reminiscent of other female portraits of the early to mid-1760s, although the precision of the manner in which the fabric of the dress, lace and fur stole are painted suggests the intervention of a drapery painter. The image of Mudge’s young wife, unlike her ‘philosopher’ husband, is intimate and domestic, underlined by the subject’s slightly shy expression and reserved demeanour, together with the presence on the table of a book and work-basket. Mrs Mudge appears to have lived in her husband’s shadow, as nothing is known of her personal history. She died, widowed and childless, in the summer of 1782.

Elizabeth Mudge, née Neell

Figure 3.
Joshua Reynolds, Elizabeth Mudge, née Neell, c.1764-6. Oil on canvas, 73 × 62.5 cm. Trewithen.

Digital image courtesy of Digital image courtesy of Dave Penman. (All rights reserved)

Zachariah Mudge, who predeceased his wife, died in the spring of 1769, following a fatal attack of gout on one of his regular trips to London – probably to see Reynolds and Johnson. In May of that year, Johnson wrote a fulsome obituary in the London Chronicle: ‘The grandeur and solemnity of the preacher did not intrude upon his general behaviour. At the table of his friends he was a companion, communicative and attentive, of unaffected manners, of manly cheerfulness, willing to please and be pleased’.11

Dr John Mudge

Following Zachariah Mudge’s death, Reynolds’s principal contact with the Mudge family was Zachariah’s youngest son, Dr John Mudge, whom he had known since childhood. John Mudge was two years older than Reynolds. When his family moved from his birthplace in Bideford, north Devon, to Plymouth he attended Plympton Grammar School, where Reynolds was a fellow pupil and where Reynolds’s father, Samuel, served as headmaster. John Mudge established a successful practice as a surgeon in Plymouth, specialising in the prevention of smallpox through inoculation.12 Although resident in Plymouth throughout his life, Mudge gained national recognition, and fellowship of the Royal Society, for his scientific work on developing lenses for the reflecting telescope.

In 1752, immediately following his return from Italy, Reynolds spent three months in Plymouth with family and friends. At that time he painted John Mudge’s portrait (fig. 4; see also TN1). In terms of its composition and the characterisation of the sitter, it was among Reynolds’s most Rembrandtesque portraits. Later in the 1750s he painted another portrait for Mudge, this time of his eldest son, also John. As Northcote related, the teenage Mudge was working as a clerk in the Navy Office in London. In order to surprise his father, who evidently missed him, Reynolds painted his portrait peeping out from behind a curtain (fig. 5).13 The evidence of Reynolds’s sitter-book suggests the portrait was made in 1758, although Northcote, who was relying only on a general memory, dated it slightly later to about 1762.14

John Mudge

Figure 4.
Joshua Reynolds, John Mudge, circa 1752. Oil on canvas, 73 × 62.5 cm. Private Collection.

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

John Mudge

Figure 5.
Joshua Reynolds, John Mudge, 1758. Oil on canvas, 73 × 63.5 cm. Private Collection.

Digital image courtesy of Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive. (All rights reserved)

The portraits that Reynolds painted of him and his son must have counted among John Mudge’s most treasured possessions. Admirers of the portrait of John Mudge Senior included Mudge’s son-in-law, Richard Rosdew, who more than fifty years later commissioned a copy from Northcote, now at Trewithen (TN1). Northcote’s copy, dated 1808, is very faithful to the original; it is a strong visual reminder of the years Northcote had spent with Reynolds as his pupil, his ability to emulate Reynolds’s style and the key role he had played in the workshop at the height of his master’s career.

James Northcote

James Northcote, who was born in Plymouth in 1746, had known the Mudge family since his youth. An important professional link was clockmaking, a trade pursued by James Northcote’s father, his brother Samuel and Zachariah Mudge’s son Thomas. In 1766 Samuel Northcote, one of whose clocks can be found today at Trewithen, spent time with Thomas Mudge in London learning clockmaking. James Northcote, in turn, realised that his most important potential professional contact in his aspiration to become an artist was John Mudge’s close friend Joshua Reynolds. Northcote’s initial attempt to capture Reynolds’s attention was not via Mudge, but another Plymouth worthy, Henry Tolcher, then a senior alderman and friend of his father. It was Tolcher who in 1759, during the course of a visit to London, showed one of Northcote’s drawings to the engraver James MacArdell who, it appears, was being approached with a view to taking on Northcote as an apprentice. MacArdell in turn showed the drawing to Reynolds, whose portraits he was then engraving.15 Nothing came of the gambit, however, and the nearest Northcote got to Reynolds, as he later confessed, was through touching his coat covertly during the great man’s visit to Plymouth with Samuel Johnson in 1762.16

Tolcher, who continued to lobby in London on Northcote’s behalf, attempted the same year to obtain an apprenticeship for him with Edward Fisher, another engraver associated closely with Reynolds.17 He did not succeed, however, since Northcote’s father opposed the proposition. It was almost a decade later, in 1771, that Northcote, out of desperation, walked to London with his brother, armed with letters of introduction to Reynolds from Tolcher and John Mudge.18 That summer Reynolds, presumably in respect for his friendship with Mudge and Tolcher, took on Northcote as his pupil and invited him to live under his roof in Leicester Square. Northcote duly wrote to Mudge to express his heartfelt thanks.19 Mudge in return offered him personal encouragement and financial support.20

The importance of John Mudge to Northcote as friend and patron during the formative years of his career is higlighted by the portraits at Trewithen and the associated correspondence. In June 1771 Northcote wrote to his brother, telling him that he had procured a pair of spectacles for Mudge from Dollond the optician.21 And in April 1772 Mudge wrote to Northcote thanking him for the ‘obliging present of the picture, which is exceedingly well done’.22 Although he does not identify the work in question, it may well have been the ‘small landscape by Rysdale’ which Northcote copied in Reynolds’s collection and which he recalled having presented to Mudge.23 In another letter, of April 1774, Mudge congratulated Northcote on two pictures he had exhibited at the Royal Academy of ‘a young lady, and an old man’, as well as enquiring whether the engraving of Reynolds’s Count Ugolino, exhibited at the previous year’s exhibition, was finished (fig. 6).24 Northcote would have had a particular interest in this celebrated painting, not least since he had modelled for one of Ugolino’s sons.25 The following January Mudge wrote rather plaintively to Northcote: ‘You will be so good as to give my compliments to Sir Joshua, and tell him that I believe he has forgot his promise, which I have with great impatience expected, the etching of Comte Ugolino; he was so good to say that he would give me one of the first impressions, as soon as they came to his hands; do be so good as to put him in mind of it’.26

1774. Mezzotint engraving, 50.8 × 62.7 cm. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.10359).

Figure 6.
John Dixon after Joshua Reynolds, Ugolino, 1774. Mezzotint engraving, 50.8 × 62.7 cm. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.10359).

Digital image courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. (CC BY-NC 4.0)

In 1773 Northcote, who was by then showing his work independently at the Royal Academy, exhibited a portrait of John Mudge’s elder brother, Thomas, one of the capital’s leading clockmakers. As Northcote’s brother stated on hearing the news: ‘We were all pleased to hear that Sir Joshua and Miss Reynolds thought your portrait of T. Mudge worthy of a place in the Exhibition, and Mr. Mudge was no less pleased when he heard it; and though he was impatient to have the picture before he learnt this news, yet he now says he could wait with patience for it six months (was it required) with satisfaction’.27 The portrait, which is now untraced, was evidently commissioned by John Mudge to promote his protégé’s career through an image of his eminent brother.

Another portrait commissioned by Mudge from Northcote at this time was a copy of Reynolds’s portrait of his friend the military engineer and courtier Leonard Smelt (fig. 7). As Mudge flattered Northcote, his copy was ‘so very a good 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 of mellowness of tone, which is discoverable when the two are by the side of each other, I protest I should not have known yours from the original’.28 Mudge retained Reynolds’s original, painted some twenty years earlier, and presented Smelt’s family with Northcote’s copy.29

Leonard Smelt

Figure 7.
Sir Joshua Reynolds, Leonard Smelt, 1755. Oil on canvas, 73 × 62.5 cm.

Digital image courtesy of Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive. (All rights reserved)

James Ferguson

Towards the end of his time with Reynolds, Northcote painted the portrait of James Ferguson, the Scottish astronomer and instrument and globe-maker, who was a close friend of Dr John Mudge and who shared his interest in astronomy and scientific instruments. Ferguson, who lived in London, visited Mudge in Plymouth. Northcote may have painted Ferguson’s portrait on a visit to Plymouth, or in London (TN2). The occasion of the portrait may have been the first time that Northcote had met Ferguson, although in a letter to his brother of 1772 he mentioned being impressed by a ‘fine full-length’ of him exhibited at the Royal Academy by the Bristol painter John Simmons.30 In his more modestly scaled head-and-shoulders portrait, Northcote portrayed Ferguson in a soft cap, holding in his hand one of his scientific publications, possibly Select Mechanical Exercises, published in 1773. The format of Northcote’s portrait, portraying Ferguson in profile pose as a philosopher and intellectual, was clearly influenced heavily by Reynolds’s earlier portrait of John Mudge (see fig. 4), which he may have regarded as a pendant, thus uniting under one roof his own works with that of his master.

Northcote’s portrait of Ferguson, which remains virtually unknown, is not recorded in his Account Book, which he began to keep when he established his independent portrait business in Portsmouth, probably in the early summer of 1776.31 In all likelihood he painted it some time in 1775 or early in 1776, while still in Reynolds’s service. The importance Northcote attached to his portrait of this distinguished man of science is reflected by the publication of a mezzotint engraving of it on 20 March 1776 (fig. 8). The engraver was Francis Haward (1759–1797), who in 1776 was still a teenager and enrolled as a student in the Royal Academy Schools. The print is possibly his earliest engraving, as well as the first published likeness of Ferguson, who died just eight months later on 17 November 1776.

1776. Mezzotint engraving, 35.3 × 25.1 cm. The British Museum (1902,1011.2484).

Figure 8.
Francis Haward after James Northcote, James Ferguson, F.R.S., 1776. Mezzotint engraving, 35.3 × 25.1 cm. The British Museum (1902,1011.2484).

Digital image courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Northcote's Self-Portrait

Without doubt, the most impressive portrait Northcote painted for John Mudge during these early years was his own (TN4). Northcote painted this previously unrecorded work probably just before he left for Italy in the spring of 1777, as indicated by comparison with a drawing of him made by Prince Hoare, his travelling companion in Italy (National Portrait Gallery, NPG D3733; see TN4). Although the precise circumstances surrounding the self-portrait’s creation are uncertain, it is likely that he presented it to Dr Mudge as a mark of respect for his patron, and as a means of inserting himself literally into Mudge’s circle of influence. Northcote may also have considered it as a visual rite of passage, confirmation that he now regarded himself as an independent artist, emerging from the shadow of Reynolds. Indeed, in a letter written in February 1776, Northcote told his brother that he was astonished to learn that Mudge had expressed the view that he should continue to remain with Reynolds. Instead, as he noted, rather than become the imitator of a single artist, he wished to develop his own style and earn an income. He was also determined, as Reynolds had done, to travel to Italy.32

Thomas Mudge

As Northcote pursued his career in London following his return from Italy, he kept in close touch with the Mudge family. Among other members of the family, he painted the portrait of John Mudge’s third wife, Elizabeth Garrett, and his daughter, Anne, who died in childbirth in 1783.33 In 1782, Richard Rosdew, husband of Jenny Mudge, commissioned him to paint the portrait of their nephew Thomas Mudge (TN3), son of Thomas Mudge the clockmaker. And in 1786 he painted John Mudge’s portrait for his son-in-law, the Reverend James Yonge, an engraving of which by Samuel William Reynolds was published in 1795 (fig. 9). In this portrait of the sixty-five-year old Mudge, Northcote effectively reprised Reynolds’s portrait made more than thirty years earlier, depicting Mudge in a similar soft cap, before a drape, with his arm resting on an open book. The two men remained in contact for the rest of Mudge’s life. In March 1791 Mudge wrote to Northcote expressing his views on Edmund Burke’s latest publication, Reflections on the Revolution in France, noting his agreement with the need for change in France, if not the means. He also asked Northcote to present his ‘kindest remembrance to Sir Joshua’.34 By this time Reynolds was virtually blind and in very poor health. He died in February 1792. John Mudge died just over a year later. Northcote attended the funeral in Plymouth. ‘The news of his death’, he recalled, ‘came very unexpectedly to me & very much affected my mind, as the idea of Dr Mudge was connected with a long train of circumstances’.35

1795. Mezzotint engraving, 27.8 × 22.4 cm. Wellcome Collection (no. 7073i).

Figure 9.
Samuel William Reynolds after James Northcote, John Mudge. M.D. and F.R.S., 1795. Mezzotint engraving, 27.8 × 22.4 cm. Wellcome Collection (no. 7073i).

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

Over the ensuing decades, Northcote promoted himself energetically as the leading authority on Reynolds, his life and legacy. His earliest account of Reynolds appeared in 1813 as Memoirs of Sir Joshua Reynolds Knt., published the same year as the great commemorative exhibition of Reynolds’s art at the British Institution. Further editions followed, including in 1819 The Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds in two volumes, ‘revised and augmented’. During this time, Northcote remained on amicable terms with the Mudge family, although in the 1820s matters took a dramatic turn for the worse as Northcote, in an effort to boost his public persona, engaged with the popular press in the person of the radical journalist and critic William Hazlitt.

The catalyst was an essay written by Hazlitt in the New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal in 1827, the sixth in a series entitled ‘Boswell Redivivus’, where the author published his conversations with Northcote, revolving round recollections of his earlier life and times, and the great men he had known – not least Joshua Reynolds. The essay in question, which featured Zachariah Mudge prominently, made close reference to a manuscript memoir of Mudge, written by the dissenting minister, John Fox, an old school friend. Among other things, Fox’s memoir shed new light on Mudge’s early life, including an account of rough sleeping on the streets of London following the rejection of his amorous advances by a local Devon housemaid. Northcote also drew on the memoir to suggest that in later life Mudge, whom Fox regarded as a Deist, had no real respect for the spiritual values expressed in his sermons, and that in old age he ‘grew indolent at last, and spent his time in playing cards with old ladies who were rich and pious’.36 During the course of their conversation, Northcote showed Hazlitt Watson’s engraving of Mudge’s portrait after Reynolds. Hazlitt, influenced no doubt by Northcote’s revelations, observed that he ‘appeared to me a complete high priest, bullying and insincere’.37

In the course of their published conversation, Northcote told Hazlitt that he had passed Fox’s memoir to Reynolds, who had been anxious to learn more of Mudge’s personal history. He also told him that he did not know what had become of the memoir, but suspected Reynolds of having burnt it because it revealed that a man whom he had regarded as ‘a saint and the model of a Christian pastor’ had turned out to be ‘little better than a vagabond and mountebank’.38 However, we can now confirm that Reynolds may not even have known of the manuscript, let alone destroyed it. This we know because in 1790 Northcote made a transcription of the original document, which at that time still belonged to Fox’s grandson. Northcote, who clearly valued his privileged access to its controversial contents, embellished his transcription with original letters and his own recollections of Reynolds, and entitled it ‘Worthies of Devon’. Critically, he must have had it in his possession, and drawn on it, when conversing with Hazlitt. Following Northcote’s death, his transcription was purchased by a London printseller, who sold it to the Plymouth Proprietory Library in 1855. It was destroyed in the Second World War when the library was bombed. Thankfully, it had been published in the transactions of a local history society – including details concerning the circumstance surrounding Northcote’s transcription.39 In other words, Northcote was being economical with the truth, although Hazlitt was probably unaware of his dissimulation.

In the course of the conversation with Hazlitt, Northcote passed comment not only on Zachariah Mudge but also the present generation of the Mudge family, which, although respectable, ‘derived its chief lustre from its first two founders [Zachariah and John Mudge], like clouds that reflect the sun’s rays after he has sunk below the horizon’.40 Although Zachariah Mudge had been dead for nearly fifty years, his descendants, and members of the local community in Plymouth, took great offence. Richard Rosdew, John Mudge’s brother-in-law and guardian of the family name, responded immediately in a letter of complaint to the editor of the New Monthly Magazine. Perhaps because of their long association, Rosdew did not blame Northcote, but Hazlitt, who he claimed had perverted the conversation by asking ‘insidious questions’ and then publishing them ‘without the knowledge of the party from whom they were drawn’.41 Northcote in turn dissociated himself from Hazlitt, informing Rosdew that he was ‘a papist, a wretch, a viper, whom he would stab if he could get at him’.42 He also wrote a personal letter to Thomas Campbell, editor of the New Monthly Magazine, in which he described Hazlitt’s articles as ‘worthless trash’.42 By way of apology Campbell published Samuel Johnson’s eulogy on Zachariah Mudge, first published in The London Chronicle at the time of his death in 1769.44

In 1830, Hazlitt published his conversations with Northcote in book form. This time, Rosdew wrote directly to Northcote threatening him with legal action if the book repeated ‘any of the false and libellous accounts of the Mudge family which have appeared in the New Monthly Magazine’.45 Northcote in turn requested Hazlitt to censor the offending passages, much to Hazlitt’s disappointment, who felt that Northcote had lost his nerve.46 However, in due course, Rosdew realised that Northcote, who in truth relished the controversy, had continued to collude with Hazlitt. At that point he severed his ties with the artist, who had enjoyed the patronage and friendship of his family for the past seventy years: ‘Ingratitude, envy, meanness, and inordinate self-conceit, together with falsehood, have marked the painter’s conduct respecting the Mudges. To these I may add extreme vanity, to gratify which he would sacrifice any thing – not excepting his money’.47 Rosdew also banished Northcote’s self-portrait –the picture now at Trewithen – from the walls of his home and consigned it to the attic.48

In 1825 Rosdew had commemorated Zachariah Mudge through the commission of a monumental marble bust of him from the sculptor Francis Chantrey, a gesture which must have made the publication of Hazlitt’s conversation with Northcote especially galling. The bust, completed in 1830 (fig. 10), was placed in the south aisle of St Andrew’s church, Plymouth, where Mudge had been vicar. The inscription, which lauded his virtue and intellect, read: ‘In private life he was amiable and benevolent; In his ministry faithful, eloquent and persuasive. Distinguished for knowledge among the learned, and for talent among men of Science’.49 Chantrey modelled the bust on Reynolds’s portrait of Mudge, then owned by Rosdew. Indeed, Chantrey was apparently so impressed by the portrait that he offered to waive his £500 fee if he were permitted to keep the painting, although in the end he settled for a copy by the contemporary portraitist John Jackson.50

Warren's carte-de-visite with a photograph of Francis Chantrey's marble statue of Zachariah Mudge

Figure 10.
Warren's carte-de-visite with a photograph of Francis Chantrey's marble statue of Zachariah Mudge, 1830, St Andrew's Church, Exeter, before bomb damage in the Second World War.

Digital image courtesy of Trewithen. (All rights reserved)

In 1830, as the bust of Mudge was being installed in St Andrew’s, Plymouth, William Hazlitt, whose career had foundered, died in poverty of stomach cancer. James Northcote died the following year aged eighty-four. A wealthy man, he left in his will £1000 for a monumental marble statue of himself to be made by Francis Chantrey.51 Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1838, the statue was erected in Exeter Cathedral two years later (fig. 11). Although, like Reynolds, he had died and was buried in London, Northcote was clearly intent that his memory should be preserved in the county of his birth, from where so much of his early patronage had derived, and where lifelong friendships had been forged. Whether surviving members of the Mudge family would have been so impressed by the erection of Northcote’s monument is another quite matter. As Northcote’s earliest biographer, Allan Cunningham, reminded his readers in 1832: ‘Northcote was still deeper in debt to the Mudges than his master: by them his works had been introduced to the world, and himself to Reynolds’.52

1838. Marble. Exeter Cathedral.

Figure 11.
Francis Chantrey, James Northcote, 1838. Marble. Exeter Cathedral.

Digital image courtesy of Andrew Rabbott. (CC BY-SA 4.0)


  • Dr Martin Postle is Deputy Director for Grants and Publications at the Paul Mellon Centre. Between 1998 and 2007 he was Head of British Art to 1900 at Tate. Martin's research and publication interests focus principally on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British art, including portraiture, landscape and the history of art academies. He has curated exhibitions on a wide range of subjects, including the artist’s model, the Fancy Picture and the art of the garden, as well as monographic exhibitions on Joshua Reynolds, Johan Zoffany, Richard Wilson, Stanley Spencer and George Stubbs. Martin is project leader and commissioning editor of ‘Art & the Country House’, to which he has contributed a number of essays and catalogue entries.


  1. Richard Zachariah Mudge’s wife was Alice Watson Hull (1787–1862). The division of the picture collection is referred to in a loose manuscript note by William Charles Raffles Flint at Trewithen, contained in a notebook on the picture collection by Stamford Raffles Flint. Among the pictures inherited by Sophia Elizabeth Mudge (later Mrs Bogue) were portraits of Major General William Mudge and Richard Zachariah Mudge by James Northcote, Mrs Rosdew (née Jenny Mudge) by Thomas Lawrence, Leonard Smelt by Joshua Reynolds and Reynolds’s self-portrait (‘Sir Joshua Reynolds by himself’). The Reynolds portrait, which is otherwise unrecorded, was owned around 1900 by Miss Helen Bogue. She noted that it ‘came into the hands of my great-grand-uncle, William Rosdew of Beechwood, by whom it was left to my great-grandfather, General Mudge; it is 30 x 24 in, in a brown snuff-coloured coat with velvet collar, and much the same date as the portrait in the Dulwich Collection’: Algernon Graves and William Vine Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds P.R.A., 4 vols, London: Henry Graves & Co., 1899–1901, vol. 4, p. 1395. William Rosdew was the husband of John Mudge’s daughter Kitty and the brother of Richard Rosdew, who married John Mudge’s daughter Jenny. The portrait in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, to which the Bogue portrait was compared in terms of date, was a version of the late self-portrait of the artist in spectacles, painted c.1788.

  2. 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. Illustrated with portraits, Truro: Netherton & Worth, 1883.

  3. John Heyward Johnstone was descended from the Hawkins family, who had built Trewithen in the early decades of the eighteenth century.

  4. James Northcote, The Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 2 vols, London: Henry Colburn, 1819; Stephen Gwynn, Memorials of an Eighteenth Century Painter (James Northcote), London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1898; William Hazlitt, Conversations of James Northcote, Esq., R.A., London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1830.

  5. Flint, 1883, p. 15.

  6. David Mannings and Martin Postle, Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2 vols, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000, vol. 1, p. 346, no. 1310.

  7. Flint, 1883, p. 24.

  8. For other versions of the portrait and their status, see the catalogue entry for TN29.

  9. Flint, 1883, p. 23. On p. 241 Flint gives the date as 1762, but 1764 is probably correct.

  10. Hazlitt, 1830, p. 104.

  11. Flint, 1883, p. 22; The London Chronicle, 2 May 1769.

  12. See John Mudge, A Dissertation on the Inoculated Small-Pox, London: E. Allen and T. Davies, 1777.

  13. Northcote, 1819, vol. 1, pp. 110–11; Charles Robert Leslie and Tom Taylor, Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, London: John Murray, 2 vols, 1865, vol. 1, p. 148; Gwynn, 1898, p. 42.

  14. Mannings notes a series of cancelled appointments in Reynolds’s sitter-book in January 1758, and further appointments in February, July and August: Mannings and Postle, 2000, vol. 1, p. 346, no. 1309. Raffles Flint dates the picture to February 1758: Flint, 1883, p. 118.

  15. Gwynn, 1898, p. 33.

  16. Ibid., p. 34.

  17. Ibid., pp. 35–7.

  18. Ibid., pp. 39–40. Northcote mentioned the letter of introduction from Mudge in a letter he wrote shortly afterwards to his brother, Samuel. There, he apologised for not having shown him the letter, as ‘I then thought you would have imagined my attempts to be a painter proceed rather from vanity and discontent and feard you would not have approved of the scheme’: 10 August 1771, Royal Academy of Arts, GB/0397/NOR/3.

  19. Gwynn, 1898, pp. 53–4.

  20. Flint, 1883, p. 99.

  21. Northcote to Samuel Northcote, 25 June 1771, Royal Academy of Arts, GB/0397/NOR/1.

  22. Flint, 1883, p. 100.

  23. Gwynn, 1883, p. 47. The identity and whereabouts of Northcote’s copy is unknown. It was copied possibly from The Grain Field of 1665 by Jacob van Ruisdael, which was then in Reynolds’s collection and now belongs to the Metropolitan Museum, New York: Francis Broun, ‘Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Collection of Paintings’, doctoral thesis, 2 vols, Princeton University, 1987, vol. 2, pp. 74–5. Northcote mentions his copy after Ruisdael and another he is about to make of a ship in a storm after Willem van de Velde, in a letter to William Elford of May 1771 and in a letter to his brother Samuel of 21 July 1771: Gwynn, 1898, p. 48; Royal Academy of Arts, GB/0397/NOR/2.

  24. Gwynn, 1898, p. 101. The mezzotint engraving by John Dixon after Reynolds’s Ugolino was published on 1 February 1774.

  25. Martin Postle, Sir Joshua Reynolds: The Subject Pictures, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 140, p. 329 n. 18.

  26. Flint, 1883, p. 103.

  27. Gwynn, 1898, p. 76.

  28. Gwynn, 1898, p. 76.

  29. Mannings and Postle, 2000, p. 417, nos 1633 and 1633a.

  30. Northcote to Samuel Northcote, June 1772, Royal Academy of Arts, GB/0397/NOR/10. According to the Royal Academy exhibition catalogue, in 1772 Simmons exhibited ‘Two portraits; three quarters’, both listed as number 244. Neither are identified by name.

  31. Jacob Simon, ‘The Account Book of James Northcote’, The Walpole Society, vol. 58, 1996, pp. 21–125.

  32. Northcote to Samuel Northcote, 14 February 1776, Royal Academy of Arts, GB/0397/NOR/17.

  33. Northcote to Samuel Northcote, 14 February 1776, Royal Academy of Arts, GB/0397/NOR/17.

  34. Flint, 1883, pp. 104–5.

  35. Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art, vol. 29, July 1897, p. 99.

  36. William Hazlitt, ‘Boswell Redivivus – No. VI’, New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, 1 March 1827, p. 278.

  37. Ibid.

  38. Ibid.

  39. Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art, vol. 28, July 1896, pp. 113–14; vol. 29, July 1897, pp. 86–92. It also appears that there existed yet another copy by Northcote of Fox’s manuscript, which contained in addition a short memoir of Northcote’s brother, Samuel. This copy, it was suggested, was the first one, from which the embellished copy was made. See ibid., vol. 31, July 1899, pp. 120–2.

  40. Hazlitt, 1827, p. 279.

  41. The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, 10 July 1827, p. 352.

  42. Allan Cunningham, The Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, 6 vols, London: John Murray, 1829–33, vol. 6, p. 108.

  43. Allan Cunningham, The Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, 6 vols, London: John Murray, 1829–33, vol. 6, p. 108.

  44. The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, 1 October 1827, p. 441. For an interesting first-hand account of the controversy from the viewpoint of the embarrassed editor, Thomas Campbell, see Cyrus Redding, Literary Reminiscences and Memoirs of Thomas Campbell, 2 vols, London: Charles J. Skeet, 1860, vol. 2, pp. 97–106.

  45. Rosdew to Northcote, 19 May 1830, in Duncan Wu, William Hazlitt: The First Modern Man, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 425.

  46. Hazlitt to Northcote, 29 July 1830, in Herschel Moreland Sikes, Willard Hallam Bonner and Gerald Lahey, eds, The Letters of William Hazlitt, London: Macmillan, 1979, p. 374.

  47. Wu, 2008, p. 426.

  48. According to Allan Cunningham, Rosdew ‘turned the painter’s portrait out of his collection, where it had long hung, among the other heads of the worthies of Devon by the hand of Reynolds’: Cunningham, 1829–33, vol. 6, p. 114. Stamford Raffles Flint noted in his manuscript ‘Catalogue of pictures’, 1882, now at Trewithen: ‘This picture Mr. Richard Rosdew in the year 1827 turned out of his collection, where it had long hung, on account of some remarks made by Northcote derogatory to the Mudges which appeared in Hazlitt’s “Conversations”, and for some years it was relegated to the attics where it was placed with its face to the wall. Vide Allan Cunningham’s British Painters Vol VI p. 114.’

  49. Flint, 1883, p. 24. The bust was badly damaged when the church was bombed in March 1941, and only the head exists today in a fragmented form.

  50. Ibid., p. 26.

  51. Alison Yarrington et al., ‘An Edition of the Ledger of Sir Francis Chantry, R.A., at the Royal Academy, 1809–1841’, The Walpole Society, vol. 56, 1994, p. 266, no. 237a.

  52. Cunningham, 1829–33, vol. 6, p. 108.



by Martin Postle
20 November 2020
House Essay
CC BY-NC International 4.0
Cite as
Martin Postle, "Patrons and Painters: Portraits by Joshua Reynolds and James Northcote at Trewithen", Art and the Country House,