|Sir Joshua Reynolds from The Literary Works of|
Sir Joshua Reynolds by HW Beechey (1852)
Sir Joshua Reynolds (16 July 1723 - 23 February 1792) was a leading 18th century English portrait painter and President of the Royal Academy from 1769 to 1792.
You can see some of his paintings in my blog post about an exhibition of his work.
Joshua Reynolds was born on 16 July 1723 in Plympton, Devon, one of the 11 children of Samuel Reynolds and Theophila Potter. His father was master of Plympton grammar school and it was here that Joshua received his education.
Artist or apothecary
Joshua was encouraged to take an active interest in art and painted his first known portrait at the age of 12. He was highly influenced by Jonathan Richardson’s An Essay on the Theory of Painting (1715).
When it came to choosing a career, Joshua told his father that “he would rather be an apothecary than an ordinary painter; but if he could be bound to an eminent master, he should choose the latter”.(1)
In 1740, Joshua’s father bound him to an “eminent master” – Thomas Hudson, a native of Devon who had become a leading portrait painter in London. Although he was bound for four years, he only served two; Hudson dismissed him after an argument. (2) The two men were soon reconciled and Joshua continued to paint, dividing his time between Plymouth Dock in Devon and London.
The Grand Tour
On 11 May 1749, Joshua sailed to Europe with Augustus Keppel. Over the next three years, his travels encompassed Cadiz, Minorca, Gibraltar, Morocco, Rome, Perugia, Arezzo, Florence, Venice, Lyons and Paris. He made copies of many old masters and also painted some caricatures, but had no formal artistic training. Whilst in Rome, he took on his first pupil, Giuseppe Marchi, who returned with him to England on 16 October 1752.
|Admiral Keppel from The Life and|
Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds by Leslie and Taylor (1865)
On his return to England, Joshua took apartments in St Martin’s Lane, a very fashionable address for a painter. He later moved to 5 Great Newport Street and then to 47 Leicester Square in 1760, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Joshua was a prolific painter. During the 1750s, he painted over 100 portraits a year, often working seven days a week, except in the summer when the ton deserted the city. He kept pocket notebooks listing his appointments, which give a wonderful insight into both his sitters and his social engagements.
His popularity was reflected in his charges. His rates went up from 48 guineas for a full-length portrait in 1753 to 100 guineas in 1759 and then 150 guineas in 1764.
He promoted his works through engravings of his paintings.
The Royal Academy
|Drawing from life at the Royal Academy|
from The Microcosm of London (1808-10)
During his presidency, he wrote 15 lectures on art, known as discourses, which were read out and then published. Unfortunately, Joshua was not a good public speaker and people had difficulty hearing him.
Joshua exhibited at the first annual exhibition of works held by the Society of Artists in 1760 and at the Royal Academy, whose first exhibition opened on 26 April 1769 and continued every year. Between 1769 and 1779, Joshua exhibited over 100 pictures.
|The exhibition at the Royal Academy, Somerset House|
from The Microcosm of London (1808-10)
Joshua was eager for royal recognition and was disappointed when Allan Ramsay was appointed portrait painter to the King in 1760. It was not until 1 October 1784 that Joshua was made principal painter-in-ordinary on Ramsay’s death.
On 21 April 1769, Joshua was knighted at St James’ Palace.
|St James' Palace, London|
The Georgian networker
Joshua was a very sociable man and developed a wide circle of patrons and friends. He was a member of a number of clubs including the Artists’ Club, the Dilettanti Society, the Devonshire, the Thursday night club and the Eumelian.
He was a frequent guest at the bluestocking circle assemblies of Mrs Montagu where he developed friendships with Fanny Burney and Hannah More.
His friends included lexicographer Samuel Johnson, author Oliver Goldsmith, politician Edmund Burke and radical John Wilkes.
In later years, Joshua was part of ‘The Gang’ with James Boswell, Edward Malone and John Courtnay.
from The Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds
by Leslie and Taylor (1865)
In 1764, the Literary Club was formed at Joshua’s suggestion, meeting at the Turk’s Head in Gerrard Street for many years. “The object of Reynolds in the establishment of this club was to give Johnson undisturbed opportunities of talking; and to procure for himself and his friends such opportunities of listening to his wisdom and wit, as did not often occur in the accidental intercourse of mixed society.” (3)
Joshua never married. There are letters to a Miss Weston that suggest a romantic attachment in the late 1740s and rumours of other attachments in the late 1770s. He was very fond of Fanny Burney and it was thought he would offer for her, but in 1782, he suffered a severe paralysis and Fanny wrote to her sister that to be married to him would leave her in perpetual fear of his suffering a fatal stroke.(4)
from Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay (1846)
The Whig influence
Many of Joshua’s friends and patrons were leading members of the Whig party and it is probable that he, too, was a Whig.
Johnson complained that: “Reynolds is too much under Fox and Burke at present. He is under the Fox Star, and the Irish constellation." (6)
What was Sir Joshua like?
Joshua was about five foot six inches tall, with a rounded face and a lip that had been damaged by a riding accident in Minorca. He was dedicated to his painting and had a tendency to be sloppy in his appearance, careless of whether he had thrown snuff down his front whilst at work.
Sadly Joshua did not get on well with his unmarried sister Frances who lived with him as housekeeper for many years. Joshua found her constant indecisiveness frustrating and he did not treat her kindly, leading some to assume that he was cold in all his relationships. In the 1770s, Frances left and his niece, Mary Palmer, became his housekeeper for the rest of his life.
Joshua was highly sociable and known for his generosity, often inviting far more people to dinner than his table could accommodate, but his haphazard dinners seemed to endear him to his friends rather than provoking disgust.
He loved to play cards and visit the theatre and was fond of wine.
“I am,” said Sir Joshua, “in very good spirits when I get up in the morning. By dinner time I am exhausted; wine puts me in the same state as when I got up; and I am sure that moderate drinking makes people talk better.” (7)
|Wine and glasses, Kew Palace|
Joshua was partially deaf and often used a silver ear trumpet to aid his hearing. He wore spectacles from at least 1783 when he complained of a violent inflammation of the eyes, but as an examination of his spectacles indicates that he was short-sighted, he may have worn them for longer.
|Sir Joshua Reynolds - self-portrait c1788 from|
The Literary Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds
ed J Farrington and E Malone (1819)
Illness and death
In the autumn of 1791, Joshua started experiencing severe pain in his left eye, a result, so it transpired, of liver disease. He died on 23 February 1792 and was given a state burial in the crypt of St Paul’s on 2 March. The night before his burial, his body lay in state in the Life Room at Somerset House before being transported to St Paul’s followed by a funeral procession of 91 carriages.
(1) In a letter by his father to Mr Cutcliffe 17 March 1740, from Leslie and Taylor’s Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1865).
(2) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry by Martin Postle says the split happened in the summer of 1743 which would mean that Joshua served three years, not two.
(3) From Leslie and Taylor's Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1865).
(4) A letter from Fanny Burney to her sister from Leslie and Taylor’s Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1865).
(5) From Sir Joshua Reynolds, a personal study by Derek Hudson (1958)
(6) A conversation between Johnson and Boswell in 1778 from Boswell's Life of Johnson (1851).
(7) A conversation between Johnson and Reynolds in 1776 from Boswell's Life of Johnson (1851.
Sources used include:
Boswell, James, The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D, with new additions by John Wilson Croker (1851)
Burney, Fanny, Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay, edited by her niece, Charlotte Barrett (1846)
Hudson, Derek, Sir Joshua Reynolds, a personal study (1958)
Leslie, Charles Robert, RA, and Taylor, Tom, MA, Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1865)
Postle, Martin, Reynolds, Sir Joshua (1723-1792) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Oct 2009, accessed 2 Jul 2013)
Reynolds, Sir Joshua, ed Beechey, HW, The Literary Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1852)
Reynolds, Sir Joshua, ed Farrington, J and Malone, E, The Literary Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1819)
All photographs © Andrew Knowles - www.flickr.com/photos/dragontomato