Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-1792)

Reynolds, the great portrait painter and President of the Royal Academy, was born near Plymouth, Devon. Intended by his parents for the medical profession, he showed an over-riding proclivity for art, and in 1740 he went to London to pursue his art studies, becoming a pupil of Hudson, a leading portraitist. Back in Devon in 1743, Reynolds set up as a portrait painter himself, but returned to London in 1743. From 1749 to 1752 he lived in Italy, where he studied the works of Michelangelo and Raphael. After this period, his reputation growing, he established himself in London, and was one of the first members of the Incorporated Society of Artists. When the Royal Academy was set up in 1768, Reynolds was appointed its first President. He gave a famous series of fifteen Discourses for Academy students, and exhibited some 245 works in the Academy Exhibitions. He was appointed painter to the king in 1784, and spent his later years living in Leicester Square where there is a small bust to commemorate him.

Sir Joshua Reynolds

Reynolds was held by the Pre-Raphaelites to epitomise all that was bad about the Royal Academy, and they called him 'Sir Sloshua Reynolds' because they felt that all good old Academicians covered their paintings with a thick coating of brown varnish to hide mistakes and give a general warm glow to their paintings.

Reynolds's works may be seen in most of the larger galleries, and among his best portraits are those at Kenwood and at the Wallace Collection. A bronze statue of him, by Alfred Drury, was placed in the courtyard in front of the Royal Academy in 1912 (under the auspices of the Leighton Fund).

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