James Northcote was born in Plymouth in 1746.
He was apprenticed to his watchmaker father before moving to London where he studied under none other than famous portrait painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds.
He left Reynolds’ studio in 1775 and spent time studying in Italy. When he returned to England three years later he settled in London where Cornish artist, John Opie was one of his main ‘rivals’.
Northcote was elected as a member of the Royal Academy in 1787. Later, in 1813, he wrote the first full biography of Reynolds and also became known for his writing talents.
Northcote painted over 20 self-portraits during his life.
In this one from the city’s collections he shows himself as a young man. He is holding a palette and paint brushes – the tools of his trade. He shields his eyes as he looks off into the distance. Maybe he’s seeking inspiration for his work?
Nothcote was very close to his family and wrote often to his brother Samuel who had taken over the family watch and clock making business. Some of these letters are held in the city’s collections.
One letter from Samuel in 1722 mentions how a family friend:
“heard Sir Joshua say that you had improved as much in one year as any pupil he ever had before had done in three. You may suppose we were much pleased with this news.”
You can find out more about Northcote and see many more examples of his paintings on the Art UK website. He passed away in London in 1831 at the age of 84.