George William Mote created lusciously verdant, decorously skied landscape paintings of the English and Welsh countryside.
The beginnings of Mote’s career remain quite the mystery. His parents had divorced when he was a child, and he lived with his mother, who had worked as a housekeeper in their hometown of Barnet. They were not a particularly wealthy family, however records show Mote began exhibiting at the Royal Academy in London in 1857 and was, indeed, living in the capital. He must have therefore found some means through which to begin practising and exhibiting his works. Already at this young age he was showing considerable talent. The art magazines remarked that he ‘ought to do well if this be his beginning.’
A move to Worcestershire to receive the patronage of the antiquarian and book collector Sir Thomas Phillips (1792-1872) proved divisive to Mote. He was employed as Phillips’ ‘gardener and caretaker,’ although this might very well have been a phoney position which allowed Mote to paint with Phillips’ patronage. A number of works were listed as being in Phillips’ collection in 1862.
Many of these were of the Worcestershire countryside, and indeed, Mote derived much inspiration from his surroundings. Phillips allowed him and his wife to live in Broadway Tower, a folly with incomparable views of the sweeping Cotswolds. It must have been such sweet nectar to tantalise Mote’s artistic tastebuds.
It seems the case that Mote was a self-taught artist. Many have commented on his ‘strange’ and ‘primitive’ manner of painting. Indeed, his vivacious colouring and spanning vistas seem at once to conjure the naturalism of Constable and the arcadian fantasies so popular in the 18th century. There is certainly a sense of the fantastical in the mannerisms of nature. Oak trees stand like tall sentries to offer shade to the people underneath, whilst bushes bursting with berries bend, hunched within reach of childrens’ greedily, grabbing hands. All the while, Mote’s carefully chosen palettes blend a naturalism with this fantasy. A dusty country road brushes upwards from bronze ochre into verdant greens as the foliage builds, summiting to a glorious azure sky. His view of nature is not synthetic, it is simply heightened.
After receiving Phillips’ patronage, Mote lived for a short time in London once again before finally settling in Surrey. Here the less urbanised, country sprawl offered much for his artistic tendencies to feed off. He continued to exhibit, both at the Royal Academy and at the Suffolk Street Galleries, becoming a recurring feature of each exhibit with his curious landscapes.
In his later life, it seems Mote became quite an infamous figure in his local area. He was taken to court in the 1880s for threatening someone with foul language. It was recorded that he was a ‘modern Robinson Crusoe,’ who had often lived in a cave dug out from a hillside, wearing ‘furs and rags.’ It is quite a sorrowful story to read that upon his death in 1909, his body was discovered in ‘dirty condition.’ The police ‘stated that they had never seen a man in a more terrible state of personal neglect.’ The days of patronage in a prospectus folly were long behind him, as were his days as a landscape artist.
Nonetheless, his works remain as fascinating examples of a self-taught artist, influenced primarily by the world around him, and the nature he seemingly retreated to in his old age.
Born in Rowley Green, Hertfordshire, Britain.
Exhibited at the Royal Academy.
Married Phebe Moss. Moved to Broadway, Worcestershire, Britain.
Moved to London, Britain.
Moved to Ewhurst, Surrey, Britain.
Wife Phebe Mote died.
Died in Ewhurst, Surrey, Britain.