Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd

  • Pen and grey ink
  • 5 ¾ × 5 ⅛ inches · 145 × 130 mm
  • Inscribed ‘A lovely lass to a friar came to confess in the morning early’;
    Signed on mount, lower right: ‘Mortimer’;
    Also inscribed on mount, bottom right: ‘no. 11’;
    On verso the stamp of John Macgowan (Lugt 1496)
    Drawn c. 1775


  • John Macgowan (d.1803);
  • His sale, T. Philips, 26 January - 3 February 1804; 
  • Where purchased Sir William Forbes, 7th Baronet (1773-1828); 
  • By descent at Fettecairn House, Kincardineshire, to 2017.

This previously unrecorded drawing by John Hamilton Mortimer is a characteristic study of two heads, depicting a woman and a friar. Mortimer has included the line: ‘A lovely lass to a friar came to confess in the morning early’ a line from a popular, rather bawdy song. The song continues: ‘come tell to me sincerely I have done, sir, what I dare not name, with a lad that loves me dearly.’ The drawing is close to a sketch study now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington and both sheets were possibly made in preparation for a more finished, exhibition work which was never completed.

Drawn in black ink on buff coloured paper, the study is a rapidly made, boldly drawn example of Mortimer’s work as a draughtsman. The inclusion of the line from a popular song accords with the observations of several of his early biographers that he was used to a life of dissipation. The watercolourist Edward Dayes, who penned a series of essays, usually acerbic, on artists, claimed that in a bout of drinking Mortimer ate a wineglass, ‘of which act of folly he never recovered.’