James Northcote1746 - 1831
Born: October 22, 1746, Plymouth, Devon, England
Died: July 13, 1831, London, England
Little is known about James Northcote's early life, though it is true he did not receive any formal education before arriving in London between 1771 and 1773. His father was a watchmaker with little financial wealth, and Northcote worked for him until 1769. After this time, he attempted to launch a career as an independent portrait painter.
Shortly after moving to London, the famous portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds took Northcote on as a student, and the young painter began attending classes at the Royal Academy schools. He lived with and assisted Reynolds for about five years before again setting out on his own as a portraitist. Before long, he had earned enough money to travel abroad, and subsequently spent about three years, between 1777 and 1780, studying in Italy.
Northcote settled in London after his sojourn in Italy to find that portrait painting was no longer lucrative in the same way it had been before he left. He created a series of paintings for Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery and discovered that he preferred painting history subjects, which he pursued almost exclusively for the remainder of his career, although it was his animal paintings that received the most favorable reactions at exhibition. In fact, it was primarily animal subjects that he painted on commission for his patron Sir John Fleming Leicester.
Having exhibited at the Royal Academy since 1781, Northcote was named an associate in 1786, gaining full academic status in 1787. He was a prolific artist, single-handedly creating about two thousand individual works during his lifetime; he also authored several books, including a biography of his former teacher, Reynolds, and a biography of Titian. It is possible that he had so much time to complete so many projects because, as legend has it, Northcote almost never left his house for about the final fifty years of his life.