English painter. One of the greatest portraitists of the 18th century, he displayed a facility for striking and characterful compositions in the ‘Grand Manner’, a style based on classical and Renaissance art. He often borrowed classical poses, for example Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse (1784; San Marino, California). His elegant portraits are mostly of wealthy patrons, though he also painted such figures as the writers Laurence Sterne and Dr Johnson, and the actor David Garrick. Active in London from 1752, he became the first president of the Royal Academy in 1768 and founded the Royal Academy schools. He was knighted in 1769.
Reynolds was particularly influenced by classical antiquity and the High Renaissance masters, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and Leonardo da Vinci. In his Discourses on Art, based on lectures given at the Royal Academy from 1769 to 1791, he argued that art should be of the Grand Manner, presenting the ideal rather than the mundane and realistic. Some of his finest portraits, however, combine classical form with a keen awareness of individuality, as in his Lord Heathfield (1787; National Gallery, London) and Admiral Keppel (1753–54; National Maritime Museum, London). Certain works – such as his Self-Portrait (about 1773; Royal Academy, London) – appear closer to Rembrandt than to Renaissance artists.
Reynolds's literary interests were wide: with Dr Johnson, he founded the Literary Club, and he was a close friend of Oliver Goldsmith, Laurence Sterne, and Garrick.
Born in Plympton, Devon, Reynolds was apprenticed to the portrait painter Thomas Hudson (1701–1779). From 1743 he practised in Plymouth and then London. He visited Italy from 1749 to 1752 and studied the Renaissance masters in Rome and Venice. He was buried in St Paul's Cathedral.
Reynolds, Joshua Portrait of Samuel Johnson
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