Sir Joshua Reynolds Biography
REYNOLDS, Sir Joshua (1723–92). The principal founder of the school of English portrait painting. He was born at Plympton, Devonshire, July 16, 1723. His father, the Rev. Samuel Reynolds, rector of Plympton St. Mary, and master of the grammar school, intended his son for the medical profession. But in 1741 Joshua, who from an early age had manifested an ardent desire to be a painter, was placed under Hudson, the principal portrait painter of the day. After being in the studio of this artist two years he began on his own account to paint portraits at Plymouth Dock, now Devonport, and met with great encouragement. In 1745 he went to London and established himself in St. Martin's Lane, but on the death of his father, in 1746, he returned to Plymouth Dock. Upon the invitation of Commodore Keppel, who was in command of the Mediterranean squadron, he sailed for Italy from Plymouth in 1749 and on his arrival in Leghorn proceeded to Rome. He stayed about three years in Italy, most diligently employing his time in visiting the various cities where the chief art collections are to be found. Upon his return to London in 1752 his works attracted great attention, eclipsing everything that had been done there since Van Dyck's time. When the Royal Academy was instituted in 1768, he was elected president; he was knighted by George III and on Ramsay's death, in 1784, succeeded him as painter to the King. He founded the Literary Club (1764) for Dr. Johnson's benefit. To him Goldsmith dedicated his Deserted Village. He died in his palatial house in Leicester Square on Feb. 23, 1792, and after lying in state at the Royal Academy was interred in the crypt of St. Paul's.
Sir Joshua was very prominent in the social world and lived in friendly intercourse with Johnson, Burke, Goldsmith, Gibbon, Garrick, and other leading men of his period. His principal literary works consist of 15 Discourses before the Royal Academy (1778), treatises on the history of art of a high critical and artistic value. They are written in a precise good style and inculcate those maxims of art commonly known as academic.
Of formative influence in Reynolds's art were the great Italian masters, especially the Venetians, Correggio, the Bolognese Eclectics, and Michelangelo. He was much of an eclectic himself, and there was little that was strikingly original about his work. His composition and brushwork were learned, but his drawing, especially of the limbs, was often faulty. The strong point of his paintings was their color, showing the influence of Titian; but Sir Joshua's technical experiments had a disastrous result upon their preservation. His portraits are admirable realistic representations; the men are strong in action and character, the women gentle and attractive, the children innocent and natural. They form an epitome of London society of his day.
He is estimated to have painted from 2000 to 3000 portraits, most of which are in English private collections. The National Gallery, however, possesses a number of his best works, including those of Admiral Keppel, Lord Heathfield (the hero of Gibraltar), Goldsmith, Dr. Johnson, Garrick, the members of the Dilettante Society, and three portraits of himself. The National Portrait Gallery (London) and the Royal Academy are rich in his works, as are also the London private galleries and the University of Oxford. Especially worthy of mention are the portraits of Lady Cockburn and her children, the Duchess of Devonshire (Devonshire House), Nelly O'Brien (Hertford House), and "Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse" (Dulwich Gallery).
Although Sir Joshua preferred historical painting, his works of this character are less important. There are good examples in the Hermitage collection, St. Petersburg, including the "Continence of Scipio"; the best, perhaps, is "Ugolino and his Sons in the Tower." Among his few genre pictures are the "Girl with the Mouse-trap" (Holland House) and the "Strawberry Girl." His beautiful and well-known "Angels' Heads" (National Gallery) are in reality portrait studies.
During the past decade many excellent examples of Reynolds's work have come into American possession. In the Metropolitan Museum, New York, are thirteen, including Master Hare, Mrs. Baldwin, and Lady Carew. The Morgan collection, on loan at the Metropolitan Museum. has two others, including Lady Betty Delmé and her children, excellent alike in composition and in color. The New York Public Library possesses Mrs. Ballington as St. Cecilia and two others. Among the best examples in private collections are Lady Milnes, Miss Finch-Hatton, and Miss Frances Harford in the Frick collection, New York; Sir John Read, Elkins collection, Philadelphia; Caroline, Viscountess Clifden, and her sister (H. C. Huntington, New York); Mrs. Clayton Glyn (Mrs. J. P. Morgan, New York); Lady Bunbury (Mrs. W. W. Kimball, Chicago).
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XIX (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 758-759.