A Century of British Painters

By Samuel Redgrave; Richard Redgrave | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS

JOSHUA REYNOLDS, born at Plympton on 15 July 1723, the year Kneller died, is the next of the trio who represent the new epoch in art. Unlike Wilson and, as we shall see, Gainsborough, Sir Joshua excelled only in portraits. The son of a clergyman, who sought to add to his income by keeping a school, young Reynolds was in a position to obtain knowledge, and as his father originally intended him to practise physic, we may presume that he endeavoured to ground him in the learning essential for that profession. If he never made great progress, his after-life proved that what he did acquire was a great help to him in the composition of his discourses.

Nature intended Reynolds for a painter, and if she denied him form and delicate execution, she endowed him with such a fine sense of colour, tone, and breadth, as well as of character and of beauty, as qualified him to gain a world-wide fame in the pursuit of art.

Reynolds's father seems to have been satisfied that his son's bent for art was too decided to be opposed, and to have determined to let him follow his own inclinations. In a county so remote at that time from the metropolis as Devonshire, it is not to be supposed that Reynolds could find much instruction in the art he adopted. Edward Malone tells us that he copied such prints and drawings as fell in his way, and that in his mere boyhood he studied the 'Jesuit's Perspective' to such purpose that he was able to astonish his father by a drawing of Plympton Grammar School; but little real study of art could be thus obtained, and we may presume that in 1741, when on St. Luke's day, being then about nineteen years of age, Reynolds was placed under Thomas Hudson in London, he had had small practice in drawing. Portrait painting at that time was more a trade than an art, and it is most probable that he returned to his native county and began taking portraits there, without having acquired much more than a little face-painting by his two years' sojourn in the metropolis. He says himself, 'Not having the advantage of an early academical education, I never had the facility of drawing the naked figure which an artist ought to have'.

Many circumstances render it fortunate for art that Reynolds stayed but a short time with his master, and it is probably even a gain to art

-48-

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