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Friday, 4 August 2017

Joshua Reynolds


Joshua Reynolds was born in Plympton, Devon, England on July 16, 1723.

He was the third son of the Rev. Samuel Reynolds, master of the Plympton Free Grammar School in the town and his wife Theophila.

Joshua was bought up in an atmosphere of learning. Samuel’s first inclination was to bring up his son up as an apothecary – however, by 1740, it was clear that Joshua’s future lay in art.

Self-portrait, aged 17, entitled, Uffizi Self-portrait


Reynolds moved to London at the age of 17 where he was apprenticed to Thomas Hudson the portrait painter, who had been born in Devon.

When he was 25 Reynolds met Commodore Augustus Keppel, who invited him to join HMS Centurion, of which he had command, on a voyage to the Mediterranean. Reynolds stopped off in Italy where he studied the work of Renaissance artists. He returned to England three years later.

While in Rome in a draughty corridor of the Vatican studying the frescoes, Reynolds caught a cold which was responsible for his deafness. He had to resort to using an ear trumpet.

Art historians have suggested Reynolds' deafness ‘sharpened the use of his eyes’.

Joshua Reynolds, Self-portrait, aged about 24

On his return to England from Italy at the age of 28 Reynolds took up painting with immediate success especially amongst the Whig aristocracy.

He charged for his portraits 25 guineas for a head, 50 guineas for half length and 100 guineas for full length.

Reynolds painted in a grand style. He wanted to introduce heroic themes into his work but the public just wanted his portraits which were rather theoretical and unspontaneous.

The English portrait painter was known for frequently changing his painting style and poses, leading rival Thomas Gainsborough to say: ‘damn him, how various he is!’

Reynolds inspired Gainsborough's The Blue Boy which was painted to disprove Reynold's assertion that blue was to cold a colour to dominate a painting..

He upheld "History Paintings" as the highest form of art. Reynolds  never mastered the technique of preparing his colors. Consequently the carmine in the cheeks of his portraits began to fade almost before the paint was dry.

Reynolds also was recognized for his portraits of children, including The Strawberry Girl and The Age of Innocence. 

The Age of Innocence c. 1788, 

In 1768 Joshua Reynolds became the first president of the Royal Academy, a position he was to hold until his death.

Reynolds was knighted by George III in 1769, only the second artist to be so honored.

Reynolds was a brilliant academic. His lectures (Discourses) on art, delivered at the Royal Academy between 1769 and 1790, are remembered for their sensitivity and perception.

In 1784 Reynolds painted his famous portrait of Sarah Siddons as "Tragic Muse". Sarah Siddons was a well-known actress of the 18th century who became famous for her role as Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth. This work was painted when Mrs. Siddons was 28 years old and in the prime of her career.

Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse 

After losing the sight of an eye in 1789, Reynolds gave up painting spending his time mending pictures or cleaning them.

The founder of British school of painting, sir Joshua Reynolds bought prestige to English painting by his character and art.


Reynolds was friendly, urbane and gregarious. Boswell said of him: "He who used to be looked upon as perhaps the most happy man in the world."

Reynolds never married. His own sister, Frances, lived with him as housekeeper. The presence of family compensated Reynolds for the absence of a wife.

Sir Joshua Reynolds - Self-Portrait - 

Reynolds had many close friends from London's intelligentsia, including Dr Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, Henry Thrale, David Garrick and fellow artist Angelica Kauffmann.

Reynolds entertained liberally at his house in Leicester Square, which he'd bought in 1760. It became a resort for prominent men and women of his time including Johnson, Garrick, Burke and Mrs Siddons. "A room hung with pictures is a room hung with thoughts."

Joshua Reynolds painted by American artist Gilbert Stuart, oil on canvas, 1784


Reynolds died on February 23, 1792 at his house in Leicester Fields in London between eight and nine in the evening.

His last words were "I know that all things on earth must have an end and now I am come to mine."

He was buried at St Pauls with much ceremony.

Reynolds left a large part of his £80,000 legacy to his niece, Miss Palmer.

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