The present drawing is usually grouped with a series of depictions of banditti, inspired by the works, and even more the reputation, of Salvator Rosa. John Sunderland dates it to 1774, the date of the engraving, which suggests that it may have been among the group of such drawings bought by Richard Payne Knight in the early 1770s, as related by J.T. Smith. Knight visited Mortimer at his house in Church Court, Covent Garden, and found him despondent at not having any patron who would buy a hundred guineas' worth of his drawings. 'Well then', observed Mr Knight, 'bring as many sketches as you would part with for that sum tomorrow, and dine with me'. When he did so, Knight gave him twice the sum, two hundred guineas (Sunderland, op. cit., p. 51).
Other than the engraving by Blyth, there is a copy of the present drawing in oil (see G. Benthall, op. cit., p. 129, and Sunderland, loc. cit.) and a reproduction by Mrs Ellen Sharples in needlework (1805, in the Sharples Collection, Bristol).
The dovecote watermark appears in paper used for engravings by J.M.W. Turner in 1807 for his highly influential publication on landscape art, The Liber Studiorium, and in an etching by Philibert-Louis Debucourt, Promenade de la Gallerie du Palais Royal, dated 1787, sold in these Rooms on 5 December 2000, lot 36.
Born in 1750, the son of the Reverend Thomas Knight (1697-1764) of Wormsly Grange, Hertfordshire, Payne Knight travelled widely throughout Italy and as a young man spent much time in Naples, where his friend, the celebrated antiquarian and collector, Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), was British Envoy. Payne Knight's London residence in Soho had a large room which acted as a museum for his important collection of bronzes, coins, gems, marbles and drawings. Twice painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, R.A., he was a prominent member of the Society of Dilettanti and a keen scholar of the Classics.