JOSHUA REYNOLDS  1723 - 1792

(G1, G2, G3a, G3b)

xxxxxThe English artist Joshua Reynolds produced some 2,000 portraits. A great admirer of classical antiquity and the masters of the Italian Renaissance, he espoused the Grand Style, searching after harmony and beauty and concerned, above all, to give an ideal rather than a realistic portrayal of his sitters. The elegance and grandeur of his portraits became exceedingly popular among London's fashionable society. Such portraits as Commodore Augustus Keppell and Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse were modelled on Greco-Roman sculptures or Renaissance works of art, and thus confirmed and enhanced their standing in society. At the same time, he could capture the character and the personality of his sitter - as in his portrait of Lord Heathfield - and he produced portraits of his many friends, including Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, David Garrick and the American expatriate Benjamin West. He was noted, too, for his delightful and charming portrayals of fashionable women and innocent children, such as Lavinia, Countess Spencer, and the three-year-old Lady Caroline Scott. In 1768 he was appointed the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, and it was here that he gave his annual lectures on his artistic theories - later published as his Discourses on Art in 1797. He became the king's principal painter in 1784, and the social standing he achieved during his career, together with the quality of his work, did much to raise the status of the artist in society.

xxxxxThe English artist Joshua Reynolds, one of the greatest portrait painters of the 18th century, produced some two thousand portraits. Like Van Dyck before him, and his contemporary and rival Thomas Gainsborough, the vast majority were studies of the English aristocracy, though his sitters also included many notable figures of the day - like the literary giant Samuel Johnson, the novelist Laurence Sterne, and the celebrities of the stage, David Garrick and Mrs Siddons. Rendered in the "Grand Manner", a style drawn from Classical and Renaissance art, they brought portraiture to the peak of its perfection.

xxxxxReynolds was born in Plympton, Devon, the son of a clergyman and local schoolmaster. He went to London at the age of 17 and, after a four-year apprenticeship, began producing his own portraits, first in Plymouth and then in London. But anxious to extend his learning, in 1749 he embarked on a tour of Italy, after being offered a lift to the Mediterranean by his life-long friend Commodore Augustus Keppel. His two year visit, which included a long stay in Rome and a time in Venice, introduced him to Greco-Roman sculpture and the great masters of the Renaissance, particularly Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Titian. Out of this experience was born his polished style and high-minded standards. On his return to London in 1752, this “Devon man” soon attracted the attention of London society by the classical elegance of his portraiture. To this period belongs the portrait of his friend Keppel, a work which did much to establish his reputation. Within five years he had 150 sitters a year. Indeed, such was the demand for his work, the strength of his connections, and the improvement in his learning, that he soon became the first English painter to achieve social recognition, thus raising the status of the artist in society. It was he who made "face painting" – and art in general – a respectable profession.

xxxxxIn 1766 Reynolds - now regarded as a man of culture rare - was honoured by being made a member of the Society of Dilettanti, an exclusive dining club for gentlemen of refined taste, and this was followed by public recognition in 1768. In that year George III founded the Royal Academy of Arts to encourage painting, sculpture and architecture, and insisted on having Reynolds as its first president. The following year he was knighted and, setting up a school at the academy, began the first of his famous annual lectures on art, setting out the artistic theories of his "grand style". In 1781 his love of the Old Masters took him to Holland and Flanders, where he made a particular study of the flamboyant Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. He was anxious, above all, to emulate his skill at history painting, but his Death of Dido, produced that year and regarded as his best work in this genre, was not an unmitigated success.

xxxxxHis crowning glory came in 1784, when he was appointed the King's Principal Painter. And it was in this year, appropriately, that he produced what many consider to be his masterpiece, the classical portrait of Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse. Needless to say, his prominent position in society made him the centre of a wide circle of friends, particularly in the worlds of literature and the theatre. He was a close friend of Dr Johnson - with whom he founded the Literary Club - and of Oliver Goldsmith, Laurence Sterne, Edmund Burke, David Garrick and the artist Benjamin West, the American expatriate who succeeded him as president of the Academy.

xxxxxReynold's style and artistic aims were clearly defined in his influential book Discourses on Art, published collectively in 1797. This work, based on the annual lectures he gave at the Royal Academy, laid great stress on the value of tradition, and the restrictions as well as the values it imposed. The artist was obliged to uphold the principles of classical beauty, and this meant representing the ideal, not the realistic. Thus his "Grand Manner" produced an air of eminence and dignity, as can clearly be seen in his Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse (illustrated above) - where, incidentally, her gesture was taken directly from Michelangelo's Isaiah on the Sistine Ceiling. In like manner, the poses he gave to many of his "sitters" were taken directly from classical antiquity, as were the background props, such as arches, columns and heavy drapery. Thus his friend Augustus Keppel is modelled on the Apollo Belvedere, a well-known statue; his Lieutenant Colonel Sir Banastre Tarleton has the pose of a particular Roman warrior; and his Three Ladies Adorning a Term (Statue) of Hymen were composed with the three graces in mind. Such measures were employed as a deliberate means of enhancing the social standing of his sitters. Likewise, he was prepared to improve natural deficiencies, facial or bodily, in order to do justice to the noble person within.

xxxxxThis said, he was fully capable of capturing the character and individuality of his sitter, as can be seen in his brilliant portrait of Lord Heathfield (detail illustrated above), the man who was the governor of the fortress during the Great Siege of Gibraltar, beginning in 1779. And alongside this formalised, idealistic style went close studies of his many friends - like that of Samuel Johnson -, and some delightful, gentle portraits of children, including three-year-old Lady Caroline Scott, The Brummel Children (one of whom became the Regency dandy Beau Brummel), and The Age of Innocence and the Heads of Angels (illustrated), both in the Tate Gallery, London.

xxxxxReynold's output was quite enormous and, in his early days, he employed assistants, such as "drapery specialists", to complete the costume and background of each portrait. On occasions he would have as many as six sittings in a day. In later years, however, when he confined his portraits to head and shoulders - like the charming and gentle Lavinia, Countess Spencer of 1782 - he painted the entire work himself, and his style became more relaxed. His self-portrait above shows him dressed in the robes of a Doctor of Civil Law, an honorary degree conferred upon him by Oxford University. The composition owes much to Rembrandt.

xxxxxThe portraits below (left to right) are: Lady Caroline Worsley, John Parker and his sister Theresa, A Strawberry Girl, Lavinia, Countess Spencer, and the English music critic Charles Burney.


Reynolds: Self-Portrait (detail) – Uffizi Gallery, Florence; Sarah Siddons as Tragic Muse – Huntington Gallery, San Marino, CA; Lord Heathfield (detail) – National Gallery, London; Heads of Angels – Tate Gallery, London; Lady Caroline Worsley (detail) – Harewood House, Yorkshire, England; John and Theresa Parker (detail) – Saltram House, near Plymouth, Devon; The Strawberry Girl – Wallace Collection, London; Lavina, Countess Spencer – The Spencer Collection, Althrop, Northamptonshire; Charles Burney – National Portrait Gallery, London; Omai – Castle Howard Collection, Yorkshire. Kauffmann: Self-Portrait – Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; Winckelman – Kunsthaus Art Gallery, Zurich; The Legend of Cupid and Psyche – Museo Civico Rivoltello, Trieste; Garrick – Burghley House Art Collection, Lincolnshire. Fuseli: Nightmare – Institute of Arts, Detroit; Samuel appears to Saul – Kunsthaus Art Gallery, Zurich; Silence – Kunsthaus Art Gallery, Zurich; Self-Portrait – Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Weird sisters/witches – Picture Gallery, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon. Zoffany: The Tribuna at Uffizi – Royal Collection, UK; Self-Portrait – The Etruscan Academy Museum, Cortona, Italy; The Royal Family – Royal Collection, UK; Figures and Elephants amid Banya Trees, India – Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT. Wright: Experiment with an Air Pump – National Gallery, London; Self-Portrait – National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Landscape with rainbow – Derby Museum and Art Gallery, England; Caenarvon Castle by Moonlight – City Art Gallery, Manchester, England; Sarah and Ann Haden – Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts, USA; Erasmus Darwin – Derby Museum and Art Gallery, England.



Angelica Kauffmann,

Henry Fuseli, Johann

Zoffany and Joseph Wright

xxxxxThe quality and versatility of his work were greatly admired. His rival Thomas Gainsborough complained "How various he is!", and the 19th century art critic John Ruskin regarded him as the "prince of portrait painters". But he was not without his critics. The English artist William Blake strongly opposed rules and regulations in art, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood condemned his techniques and dubbed him "Sir Sloshua". Reynold's eyesight began to fail in 1789 and he made no appointments after July of that year. When he died in London three years later he was buried at St. Paul's Cathedral amid the pomp usually reserved for royalty and national heroes. His friend Edmund Burke described the funeral as the most splendid ever accorded a British artist.

xxxxxIncidentally, Reynolds tended to experiment with his painting materials. Unfortunately, in some of his pictures he used bitumen and other unusual pigments, and this often led to a premature fading of the colours or a fine cracking of the surface. In some of these works, deterioration was noticeable during his lifetime, particularly in the flesh tones. ……

xxxxx…… Captain Cook’s second tour to the South Seas returned with a Tahitian named Omai. A dignified man with excellent manners, he proved an overnight sensation. He was presented to the King and Queen, wined and dined in London’s high society, and met, amongst others, Samuel Johnson and Fanny Burney. He returned to his homeland in 1776, but not before Reynolds had painted his portrait and captured something of Rousseau’s “noble savage”.

xxxxxThe Swiss painter Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) was a close friend of Joshua Reynolds, and, like him, a founder member of the Royal Academy of Arts. She was born in Chur, Switzerland, and, as a child, lived for a short time in Italy. She returned there in 1763, and it was then that she met the art historian Johann Winckelmann and painted his portrait. That meeting doubtless played a part in fashioning her interest in neo-classicism, though there was always a nuance of the Rococo style about her work, probably the influence of François Boucher. Thus whilst her figures were given Greco-Roman poses. and there were plenty of classical allusions - as in Reynold's portraits - her style had a softness and delicacy of touch. Shown here are (left to right): Self-Portrait, the German art historian Johann Winckelmann, The Legend of Cupid and Psyche, and the actor David Garrick.

xxxxxAfter studying in Italy, where she met the art historian Johann Winckelmann, the Swiss-born artist Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) settled in London in 1766. A close friend of Joshua Reynolds, her portraits and paintings became very popular. Many of her historical and mythological scenes adorned the walls of country houses, and she did a great deal of decorative work for the Scottish interior designer Robert Adam. Her work showed the influence of neo-classicism, but contained a Rococo delicacy and softness. She married the Venetian painter Antonio Zucchi (1726-1795) and went to live in Rome in 1782.

xxxxxShe stayed three years in Italy, visiting Rome, Bologna and Venice, and then settled in London in 1766 where, with Reynold's assistance, she soon became well known for her portraits and her historical, pastoral and mythological scenes - many painted to adorn the walls of country houses. She produced more than 500 paintings, and her graceful style proved immensely popular. She also provided a large amount of decorative work for the Scottish interior designer Robert Adam, and this was used in wall and ceiling panels, and to embellish furniture. It is upon this decoration that her fame now mainly rests. Inx1781 she married the Venetian painter Antonio Zucchi (1726-1795), and the following year they went to live in Rome.

xxxxxAnother Swiss-born artist at this time was Henry Fuseli (1741-1825). He moved to London in 1764, but was advised by Josuha Reynolds to study in Italy. There, he was particularly influenced by the works of Michelangelo, but on his return he chose highly imaginative subjects, some full of horror and foreboding, and others centred on paintings and drawings of distorted female nudes. His The Nightmare, produced in 1781, caused a sensation and brought him fame. A writer of ability, he also translated a major work by the art historian Johann Winckelmann, and, as a member of the Royal Academy, was appointed its keeper in 1804. As we shall see (1794 G3b) his work influenced his friend, the English artist and poet William Blake.

xxxxxAnother Swiss-born artist at this time was Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), a man noted for his exotic and original paintings. He emigrated to England in 1764, two years before Kauffmann arrived in London, and, on the advice of Reynolds, went to study in Italy. Here, like Reynolds, he came to admire the works of Michelangelo. This was to have some influence on his style, but certainly not on his subject matter. On his return, many of his paintings revolved around highly imaginative works which were full of horror and foreboding, a number of which included scenes from Milton and Shakespeare. As such these paintings had much in keeping with the frightening stories of Gothic novelists like Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Gregory Lewis. Their tales of terror and the supernatural, together with Fuseli's macabre productions, marked the beginning of one aspect of the English romantic movement.

xxxxxFuseli is best remembered today for his disquieting fantasy The Nightmare (illustrated), painted in 1781. This caused a sensation and brought him instant fame, but he also revelled in producing distorted pictures and drawings of female nudes, some wearing oversized head-dresses. Apart from his interest in painting, he was also a talented writer, and was responsible for the translation of Reflections on the Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks, the first major work of the German art critic Johann Winckelmann. He was elected a full member of the Royal Academy in 1790, where he became professor of painting over a number of years, and was appointed keeper of the Academy in 1804. As we shall see (1794 G3b), his work was to have a marked influence upon his younger contemporary and friend, the visionary English artist and poet William Blake. Shown here (left to right) are: Samuel appearing to Saul, a disturbing work entitled Silence, a Self-Portrait, and The Weird Sisters.

xxxxxAnother continental artist who worked in England during this period was the German-born Johann Zoffany (1733-1810). He lived in London from 1758, painting scenes from theatre productions, and producing elegant portraits of the royal family and the aristocracy. It was during a stay in Italy, financed by the king, that he painted The Tribuna of the Uffizi, depicting some of the art treasures of this Florence gallery. A founder member of the Royal Academy, he produced The Academicians of the Royal Academy in 1772, a scene which included portraits of himself and Joshua Reynolds. He spent some time in India during the 1780s, working as a portrait artist.

xxxxxAnother continental artist who spent much of his working life in England was the German-born painter Johann Zoffany (1733-1810). He arrived in London around 1758 and quickly gained a reputation for his elaborate conversation pieces (portraits of people in their normal surroundings) and for his scenes from stage productions, particularly those including the famous English actor David Garrick. For the king, who greatly admired his elegant style and technical skill, he painted many portraits, including Queen Charlotte with Her Sons, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, completed about 1794.

xxxxxGiven financial help from the king, he went to work in Italy in 1772, and it was here in 1780 that he produced his celebrated painting The Tribuna of the Uffizi, a scene depicting a group of connoisseurs and students admiring some of the art treasures in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence (now in Windsor Castle and illustrated above). He also spent some time in India during the 1780s, working as a portrait artist. A founder member of the Royal Academy in 1768, his The Academicians of the Royal Academy, produced four years later, included portraits of himself and Joshua Reynolds (also in Windsor Castle). Among his works was a highly romanticised version of the murder of the English explorer Captain James Cook in 1779. Illustrated below are: A Self-Portrait, The British Royal Family, and Figures and Elephants amid Banya Trees, India.

xxxxxIt was in this year (1768) that the English artist Joseph Wright (1734-97) painted his famous and highly original The Air Pump, one of a number of his works depicting the advances being made in technical knowledge in the age of the Industrial Revolution. A family group, including two distressed children, watch an experiment in which air is pumped out of a glass container, slowly suffocating the bird trapped within (illustrated). The demonstrator is about to open a valve to admit air and revive the bird, but fears he has left it too late. Among other paintings of this kind, produced during the 1760s and early 1770s, were The Orrery, The Alchymist, and themes of labour such as The Iron Forge and The Blacksmith’s Shop. These works above all were remarkable for their dramatic lighting effects in which the subject of the piece was lit by a strong artificial light - fire or candlelight - in an otherwise darkened room. These “candle-lights”, as they were called, were widely circulated as engravings and established his reputation.

xxxxxWright was born in Derby, the city in northern England which virtually gave birth to the Industrial Revolution. Apart from his paintings of technical innovations - in which he was very much a pioneer - he produced a number of portraits, particularly of northern industrialists and local gentry. As a result, he numbered among his friends the cotton magnates Sir Richard Arkwright and Samuel Crompton, the pottery manufacturer Sir Josiah Wedgwood, and the English physician Erasmus Darwin. His brilliant portraiture was noted for its down-to-earth realism, and the avoidance of conventional pose and setting. This self-portrait dates from around 1770.

xxxxxHe was also an accomplished landscape artist. During a visit to Italy in the years 1773-1775 (his only visit abroad) he produced several pictures of Vesuvius erupting, and painted the annual firework display at the Castel Sant’ Angelo in Rome. Such subjects, together with moonlit grottoes, gave him ample scope to indulge in his obsession with lighting effects. On his return from Italy he gave much time over to literary themes, based on legend or classical myth, or illustrating works by such writers as Shakespeare, Milton and Sterne. Towards the end of his life he produced small landscapes of the Lake District, visited in 1793 and 1794. In some respects his style recalls the landscapes of Claude Lorrain and Richard Wilson. Shown below are: Landscape with Rainbow, Caernarvon Castle by Moonlight, and Sarah and Ann Haden.

xxxxxThe English artist Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-97) is best known for his works depicting the technical advances being made in the Industrial Revolution - such as The Air Pump and The Orrery. And these, together with his labour themes, like The Iron Forge, and his landscapes, such as Vesuvius in eruption, gave him the scope to display his remarkable lighting effects. The subject of his painting was often illuminated by natural or artificial light, highlighted by the surrounding darkness. But Wright was also a brilliant portrait artist, thereby getting to know men like Richard Arkwright, Samuel Crompton, Josiah Wedgwood, and Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles Darwin), but, after 1775, he gave much time over to landscapes. He painted legendary and mythological scenes, or took themes from works by Shakespeare, Milton and Sterne. Here, his style recalled the landscapes of Lorrain and Wilson. He spent most of his life in Derby, but he did work for a time in Liverpool and Bath, and he did exhibit in London.

xxxxxWright spent most of his life in Derby - where he became known as “Wright of Derby” - , but he worked for some years in both Liverpool and Bath, and he sent paintings to be exhibited in London on a fairly regular basis. In 1785 he put on a one-man show of his work in Liverpool.

xxxxxIncidentally, hisxclose friend Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) was not only an eminent physician. A man with radical views, he wrote on a variety of subjects. His works included The Botanic Garden of 1795, and Zoonomia a year later, a treatise in which he advanced ideas on evolution similar to those put forward by the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck. Known for his modern approach towards scientific matters, he was the grandfather of the famous Charles Darwin.