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  • This drawing is one of a pair that were traditionally considered to be self-portraits by John Hamilton Mortimer, to whom Jefferys was close. In 1977, however, John Sunderland suggested persuasively that they were both of and by Jefferys, evidencing the age of the sitter (Mortimer was some ten years older), the close stylistic affinities with Jefferys’s known work, and, most significantly, the clear reference of the drawing in the background to “Pride Led by the Passions” (Maidstone Museum and Art Gallery), a drawing firmly attributed to Jefferys. Sunderland’s identification of sitter and maker is now accepted. The drawings depict front and back views of the artist, like two sides of a coin, and present contrasting aspects of the artistic life: disaffection and creativity. In the Center's drawing, Jefferys, wearing seventeenth-century costume and with romantically disheveled hair, holds a letter, apparently addressed to his godfather and early patron John Brenchley, in which he threatens to renounce his chosen profession. The inscription in the lower margin, “Rara avis in terra,” meaning “a rare bird on the earth,” is a quotation from the Roman satiric poet Juvenal, alluding, though perhaps not unironically, to Jefferys’s exceptional gifts and special status as a creative artist. The companion drawing, now in the National Portrait Gallery, London, shows the youthful genius with “porte-crayon” in hand, momentarily pausing from his labors on a drawing of the Massacre of the Innocents to confront his audience (which presumably might include his "Professors," whose "Folly and Vice" he castigates in the inscription on the Center's drawing) with his intense stare. Although Jefferys’s portrayal of himself as a young misunderstood genius is very beguiling, there is clearly a strong element of posturing in these self-portraits, as Jefferys’s career in fact began extremely well. The artist did not live to fulfill his youthful promise, however (in this respect his self-portraits seem to have been somewhat prophetic), and he died in London at the age of thirty-two, allegedly having wasted his considerable talents through dissipation.
?:PX_curatorial_comment
  • This drawing is one of a pair that were traditionally considered to be self-portraits by John Hamilton Mortimer, to whom Jefferys was close. In 1977, however, John Sunderland suggested persuasively that they were both of and by Jefferys, evidencing the age of the sitter (Mortimer was some ten years older), the close stylistic affinities with Jefferys’s known work, and, most significantly, the clear reference of the drawing in the background to “Pride Led by the Passions” (Maidstone Museum and Art Gallery), a drawing firmly attributed to Jefferys. Sunderland’s identification of sitter and maker is now accepted. The drawings depict front and back views of the artist, like two sides of a coin, and present contrasting aspects of the artistic life: disaffection and creativity. In the Center's drawing, Jefferys, wearing seventeenth-century costume and with romantically disheveled hair, holds a letter, apparently addressed to his godfather and early patron John Brenchley, in which he threatens to renounce his chosen profession. The inscription in the lower margin, “Rara avis in terra,” meaning “a rare bird on the earth,” is a quotation from the Roman satiric poet Juvenal, alluding, though perhaps not unironically, to Jefferys’s exceptional gifts and special status as a creative artist. The companion drawing, now in the National Portrait Gallery, London, shows the youthful genius with “porte-crayon” in hand, momentarily pausing from his labors on a drawing of the Massacre of the Innocents to confront his audience (which presumably might include his "Professors," whose "Folly and Vice" he castigates in the inscription on the Center's drawing) with his intense stare. Although Jefferys’s portrayal of himself as a young misunderstood genius is very beguiling, there is clearly a strong element of posturing in these self-portraits, as Jefferys’s career in fact began extremely well. The artist did not live to fulfill his youthful promise, however (in this respect his self-portraits seem to have been somewhat prophetic), and he died in London at the age of thirty-two, allegedly having wasted his considerable talents through dissipation.
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  • Bibliograpic reference :: John Baskett, Paul Mellon's legacy, a passion for British art : masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, pp. 269-70, no. 59, pl. 59, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)
  • Dimension height :: 54.0cm
  • Dimension width :: 41.6cm
  • Exhibition :: An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy
  • Exhibition :: English Portrait Drawings & Miniatures
  • Exhibition :: Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art
  • Exhibition :: Show and Tell
  • Exhibition :: The Critique of Reason : Romantic Art, 1760–1860
  • Exhibition :: The Fuseli Circle in Rome - Early Romantic Art in the 1770s
  • Exhibition :: The Line of Beauty : British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century
  • Located in :: New Haven
  • Located in :: Not on view
  • Located in :: Yale Center for British Art
  • Object type :: drawing
  • Subject Concept :: bottles
  • Subject Concept :: curls
  • Subject Concept :: drawings
  • Subject Concept :: hair
  • Subject Concept :: ink bottles
  • Subject Concept :: letters (correspondence)
  • Subject Concept :: man
  • Subject Concept :: oval
  • Subject Concept :: pens
  • Subject Concept :: portrait
  • Subject Concept :: quill (feather)
  • Subject Concept :: quills
  • Subject Concept :: self-portraits
  • Subject Event :: Grand Tour
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  • ...
?:PX_has_credit_line
  • Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
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?:label
  • Self-Portrait
?:type