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MONTHLY REPORT OF
:: POLITE LITERATURE.
JAMES NORTHCOTE, ESQ. R. A.
JAMES Northcote descends from a family of high antiquity, and most respectable character, in the county of Devon. They trace their anuals as far back as the Conquest, and their name and credit, if not with affuence, have been transmitted with unimpaired estimation to the present possessor. Mr. Northcote, we understand, was born at Plymouth, about the year 1746. His father, from the gradual decline of hereditary fortune, was a respectable tradesmau in that town. Young Northcote, at a very, early period of life, had displayed a strong propensity for the art of painting ; but, as his grandfather had practised that art with indifferent success, his father discouraged all the attempts of our dawning genius, considering the height necessary for excellence, and consequent advantage, as too difficult for attainment in the situation of his family. The ardour of early enthusiasm was not, however, to be chilled by the coldness of parental caution, Mr. Northcote took all possible opportunities of improving his natural talents, and was of so studious a disposition, that it is coufidently said he beyer wandered farther than twenty miles frog the place of his birth, til he reached his twenty-fifth year. · Eager to see the metropolis, not to gratifs a juvenile desire of partaking its ainusemeuts, I ut with an auxious curiosity to behold the treasures of art, which it was supposed to contain, and to signalize his talents on the great . theatre of life, he obtained a recommendatory letter from
the celebrated Dr. Mudge, of Plymouth,to Sir Joshua Reynolds. A letter from a man of such abilities, learning, and moral worth, as Dr. Mudge, implied no inconsiderable share of merit in the bearer; and the great artist to whom it was addressed soon found such promising talents in the young candidate for fame, as induced him to encourage him with praise and protection. Sir Joshua at length invited Mr. Northcote into his house, where he continued for about five years, deriving all possible advantage from the instructions and example of his great master, while he enlarged his conceptions, and improved his general powers, by a familiar intercourse with all the celebrated characters who resorted to that classic receptacle of literature and genius.
Mr. Northcote, however, possessed a mind that was not to be satisfied with one scene of action, however diversified, and however instructive. He glowed with impatient solicitude to behold all the achievements of genius, and all the monuments of antiquity, that were to be found in Italy; therefore, about the year 1777, he departed för the Continent, and took his way through Paris to Italy, encountering many obstacles, arising from an ignorance of the languages of the countries through which he passed. His pencil, however, spoke for him, wherever he went, with so much eloquence, that he obtained applause, distinction, and regard.
At Rome he continued three years, and improved himself by copying several of the most celebrated works in that august repository of the arts, but more by a diligent examination of the merits of the compositions to which the respective artists were indebted for the honours they attained.
Mr. Northcote, during his residence in Italy, was soon admitted a member of the Ancient Etruscan Academy at Cartona, as well as of the Imperial Academy at Florence. The same distinction he obtained in the academy Dei Forti, at Rome. He was requested to paint a portrait of himself, to be placed in the gallery at Florence, among the brightest ornaments of the charming art he professed. This portrait, we have heard, is distinguished for spirit, vigour, and classic taste.
In the year 1780, fraught with all the solid information, judgmnet, energy, and refinement, which could be gathered in various parts of Italy, he turned his thoughts towards his native country, ambitious of acquiring distinction among those to whom he was endeared by all the laudable pride of patriotism. Still, however, desirous of availing himself of every possible means for acquiring varied excellence in his art, he passed through Flanders in his way to England, that he might see the Flemish School in its full perfection,
We should have observed, that though devoted to painting during his travels on the Continent, he soon mastered the difficulties in the languages of the countries where he resided, and became familiar with all who were admired for talents and learning. In this respect he was, doubtless, not a little assisted by his friend Prince Hoare, an elegant and enlightened scholar, who was in Italy at the same time, and who was the associate of his amusements, and the companion of his studies.
Upon his return to London, Mr. Northcote found that, in the provinces of history and portrait, the ground was pre-occupied.. He, therefore, visited his native county, where the reputation which he had acquired during his absence, and more particularly during his residence in Italy, gave such celebrity to his name, that he found continual employment for his pencil in portrait painting. Having derived considerable profit from his practice in Devonshire, he thought he possessed enough to enable him to commence his career in the metropolis, to which he returned. The town was still overstocked with portrait painters, and therefore he employed himself chiefly 'on subjects of history and imagination. The work that first drew the attention of the public at large, and obtained the warm approbation of the best critics, was founded on the providential escape of Captain Inglefield, from the wreck of the Centaur. This work is now in the possession of the Earl of Gainsborough, It exhibited so much excellence, that, after having produced a few others of similar merit, he was soon judged worthy of being ranked among the best artists of the English School, and was therefore admitted as a memof the Royal Academy in the year 1786. The annual exhibition of every subsequent year attested the propriety of this appointment, and the Shakspeare Gallery, as well as other public repositories of art, bear the most honourable testimony to his talents and genius.
At length Mr. Northcote obtained his proper rank as a painter of portrait' and history; and as a gentlemanly competency was in due time the recompence of his in