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Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA | The Royal Academy’s first president

From Royal Academy of Arts:
The Royal Academy’s first president, Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-1792), was considered the leading portrait painter of his day and a key figure in the Academy. Still in print today, and widely translated, his groundbreaking Discourses in Art were hugely influential on the development of British art.
The son of a Devonshire reverend and schoolmaster, Reynolds received a comprehensive education before being apprenticed to the portrait painter Thomas Hudson aged 17. In 1749, he was invited to join the HMS Centurion on a voyage to the Mediterranean; Reynolds disembarked in Rome and stayed there for two years, studying the Old Masters. While in Rome he suffered from a bad cold which left him partially deaf so that he often carried an ear trumpet round with him, and was often depicted carrying the trumpet.
Soon after his return, Reynolds set up a studio in London and quickly established himself as a sought-after portrait painter, making important aristocratic connections in the process. His circle of friends included 18th-century notables such as the writer Dr Samuel Johnson, actor and playwright David Garrick and statesman Edmund Burke. He painted memorable portraits of all of them.

Reynolds played a central role in organising the group of 34 artists and architects who signed a petition to found a Royal Academy of Arts, which was to hold annual exhibitions of living artists’ work (now known as the Summer Exhibition) and establish a free art school. After King George III approved the petition, Reynolds was unanimously elected the Academy’s President and knighted the following year.
However, Reynolds was not a court favourite and painted the King only once, in a commission for the opening of the Royal Academy’s first official home at Somerset House in 1780.
Between 1769 and 1790, Reynolds set out his theories on art in a series of fifteen lectures in the Royal Academy Schools, published as Discourses on Art. He argued that painters should look to classical and Renaissance art as their model and should seek to idealise nature rather than copy it, setting out what would become known as the “grand manner” of painting.
Reynolds positioned paintings of epic, historic scenes as the highest genre of art, despite the fact that high demand for his portraits meant that he rarely painted them himself.
Reynolds used his knowledge of the Old Masters to invigorate many of his portraits. His full-length portrait of Captain Keppel depicting the naval commander energetically striding forward is actually based on the classical statue of the Apollo Belvedere.

Some artists such as Nathanial Hone felt he was too reliant of Old Masters and painted a picture titled The Conjurer in which prints of Old Masters whirl around the conjurer which was a veiled reference to his practice. Another Royal Academician, Thomas Gainsborough, fell out with Reynolds for years before seeking reconciliation on his deathbed, writing that he had always “admired and sincerely loved Sir Joshua Reynolds”.
Reynolds’s death was greatly mourned. When he died in 1792, Edmund Burke’s eulogy honoured him as “the first Englishman who added the praise of the elegant arts to the other glories of his country”.
His body lay in the Royal Academy before being moved to St. Paul’s Cathedral and the procession included ninety one carriages carrying many distinguished persons, and was followed by all the Academicians and students from the RA Schools.
There is a statue by Alfred Drury, installed in 1931 and around this statue which still greets visitors to the Royal Academy today. The fountains and lights arranged around the statue reflect the alignment of planets, the moon and stars at midnight on the night of Reynolds’s birth. | Royal Academy of Arts

From Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.:
Sir Joshua Reynolds, (born July 16, 1723, Plympton, Devon, England - died February 23, 1792, London), portrait painter and aesthetician who dominated English artistic life in the middle and late 18th century.
Through his art and teaching, he attempted to lead British painting away from the indigenous anecdotal pictures of the early 18th century toward the formal rhetoric of the continental Grand Style.
With the founding of the Royal Academy in 1768, Reynolds was elected its first president and knighted by King George III.

Early Life

Reynolds attended the Plympton grammar school of which his father, a clergyman, was master. The young Reynolds became well read in the writings of classical antiquity and throughout his life was to be much interested in literature, counting many of the finest British authors of the 18th century among his closest friends.
Reynolds early aspired to become an artist, and in 1740 he was apprenticed for four years in London to Thomas Hudson, a conventional portraitist and the pupil and son-in-law of Jonathan Richardson.
In 1743 he returned to Devon and began painting at Plymouth naval portraits that reveal his inexperience.
Returning to London for two years in 1744, he began to acquire a knowledge of the old masters and an independent style marked by bold brushwork and the use of impasto, a thick surface texture of paint, such as in his portrait of Captain the Honourable John Hamilton, 1746.

Back in Devon in 1746, he painted a large group portrait of the Eliot family (c. 1746/47), which clearly indicates that he had studied the large-scale portrait of the Pembroke family (1634-35) by the Flemish Baroque painter Sir Anthony Van Dyck, whose style of portrait painting influenced English portraiture throughout the 18th century.
In 1749 Reynolds sailed with his friend Augustus Keppel to Minorca, one of the Balearic Islands off the Mediterranean coast of Spain.
A fall from a horse detained him for five months and permanently scarred his lip - the scar being a prominent feature in his subsequent self-portraits.
From Minorca he went to Rome, where he remained for two years, devoting himself to studying the great masterpieces of ancient Greco-Roman sculpture and of Italian painting.
The impressions that he retained from this visit were to inspire his paintings and his Discourses for the rest of his life, for he felt that it was by allying painting with scholarship that he could best achieve his ambition of raising the status of his profession back in England.

While returning home via Florence, Bologna and Venice, he became absorbed by the compositions and colour of the great Renaissance Venetian painters of the 16th century: Titian, Jacopo Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese.
The Venetian tradition’s emphasis on colour and the effect of light and shading had a lasting influence on Reynolds, and, although all his life he preached the need for young artists to study the sculptural definition of form characteristic of Florentine and Roman painters, his own works are redolent of the Venetian style.

Later Years

In 1753 Reynolds settled in London, where he was to live for the rest of his life. His success was assured from the first, and by 1755 he was employing studio assistants to help him execute the numerous portrait commissions he received. The early London portraits have a vigour and naturalness about them that is perhaps best exemplified in a likeness of Honourable Augustus Keppel (1753-54).
The pose is not original, being a reversal of the Apollo Belvedere, an ancient Roman copy of a mid-4th-century-BC Hellenistic statue Reynolds had seen in the Vatican. But the fact that the subject (who was a British naval officer) is shown striding along the seashore introduced a new kind of vigour into the tradition of English portraiture.
In these first years in London, Reynolds’s knowledge of Venetian painting is very apparent in such works as the portraits of Lord Cathcart (1753/54) and Lord Ludlow (1755). Of his domestic portraits, those of Nelly O’Brien (1760-62) and of Georgiana, Countess Spencer, and her daughter (1761) are especially notable for their tender charm and careful observation.

After 1760 Reynolds’s style became increasingly classical and self-conscious. As he fell under the influence of the classical Baroque painters of the Bolognese school of the 17th century and the archaeological interest in Greco-Roman antiquity that was sweeping Europe at the time, the pose and clothes of his sitters took on a more rigidly antique pattern, in consequence losing much of the sympathy and understanding of his earlier works.

There were no public exhibitions of contemporary artists in London before 1760, when Reynolds helped found the Society of Artists and the first of many successful exhibitions was held. The patronage of George III was sought, and in 1768 the Royal Academy was founded.
Although Reynolds’s painting had found no favour at court, he was the obvious candidate for the presidency, and the king confirmed his election and knighted him. Reynolds guided the policy of the academy with such skill that the pattern he set has been followed with little variation ever since. The yearly Discourses that he delivered at the academy clearly mirrored many of his own thoughts and aspirations, as well as his own problems of line versus colour and public and private portraiture, and gave advice to those beginning their artistic careers.

From 1769 nearly all of Reynolds’s most important works appeared in the academy. In certain exhibitions he included historical pieces, such as Ugolino (1773), which were perhaps his least successful works.
Many of his child studies are tender and even amusing, though now and again the sentiment tends to be excessive. Two of the most enchanting are Master Crewe as Henry VIII (1775-76) and Lady Caroline Scott as ‘Winter’ (1778). His most ambitious portrait commission was the Family of the Duke of Marlborough (1777).

In 1781 Reynolds visited Flanders and Holland, where he studied the work of the great Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. This seems to have affected his own style, for in the manner of Rubens’s later works the texture of his picture surface becomes far richer.
This is particularly true of his portrait of the duchess of Devonshire and her daughter (1786). Reynolds was never a mere society painter or flatterer. It has been suggested that his deafness gave him a clearer insight into the character of his sitters, the lack of one faculty sharpening the use of his eyes.
His vast learning allowed him to vary his poses and style so often that the well-known remark of Thomas Gainsborough, “Damn him, how various he is!” is entirely understandable.
In 1782 Reynolds had a paralytic stroke, and about the same time he was saddened by bickerings within the Royal Academy. Seven years later his eyesight began to fail, and he delivered his last Discourse at the academy in 1790. He died in 1792 and was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Personality And Criticism

Reynolds preferred the company of men of letters to that of his fellow artists and was friends with Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, and Oliver Goldsmith, among others. He never married, and his house was kept for him by his sister Frances.

Reynolds’s state portraits of the king and queen were never considered a success, and he seldom painted for them; but the prince of Wales patronized him extensively, and there were few distinguished families or individuals who did not sit for him. Nonetheless, some of his finest portraits are those of his intimate friends and of fashionable women of questionable reputation.
Unfortunately, Reynolds’s technique was not always entirely sound, and many of his paintings have suffered as a result. After his visit to Italy, he tried to produce the effects of Tintoretto and Titian by using transparent glazes over a monochrome underpainting, but the pigment he used for his flesh tones was not permanent and even in his lifetime began to fade, causing the overpale faces of many surviving portraits.
In the 1760s Reynolds began to use more extensively bitumen or coal substances added to pigments. This practice proved to be detrimental to the paint surface. Though a keen collector of old-master drawings, Reynolds himself was never a draftsman, and indeed few of his drawings have any merit whatsoever.
Reynolds’s Discourses Delivered at the Royal Academy (1769-91) is among the most important art criticism of the time. In it he outlined the essence of grandeur in art and suggested the means of achieving it through rigorous academic training and study of the old masters of art. | John Woodward © Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Sir Joshua Reynolds (Plympton, 16 luglio 1723 - Londra, 23 febbraio 1792) è stato un pittore Inglese, uno dei più importanti e influenti pittori del XVIII secolo in Gran Bretagna ed uno dei fondatori della Royal Academy of Arts.


Joshua Reynolds nacque il 16 luglio 1723 a Plympton, nel Devonshire, da Samuel Reynolds, un ecclesiastico già professore al Balliol College dell'Università di Oxford. Più vivace e attraente dei fratelli - tra i quali figurava Mary Palmer, futura autrice del Devonshire Dialogue - il padre, intuendone le inclinazioni ed il talento artistico, nel 1740 lo mandò a Londra per imparare i rudimenti della pittura con il ritrattista Thomas Hudson, che allora godeva in città di una distinta notorietà.
Hudson aveva radunato presso il proprio atelier una considerevole raccolta di disegni di antichi Maestri, tra i quali alcuni del Guercino: Reynolds ebbe quindi l'opportunità di formarsi in un'atmosfera satura di arte, e qui rimase fino all'estate del 1743, quando fece ritorno a Plympton, dove lavorò come pittore di ritratti nel vicino porto di Plymouth. Trascorse quindi un affrettato biennio a Londra, bruscamente interrotto quando, mortogli il padre nel 1745, si stabilì a Plymouth con le sue sorelle.

Nel 1749, Reynolds incontrò il commodoro Augustus Keppel, che lo invitò ad unirsi alla ciurma della nave da guerra HMS Centurion, della quale era il capitano: fu in questo modo che l'artista ebbe modo di visitare varie città del Mediterraneo, quali Lisbona, Cadice, Algeri e Minorca, per poi giungere in Italia. Reynolds soggiornò principalmente a Roma, ove lavorò assiduamente a confronto del modello dei grandi maestri rinascimentali italiani, ma visitò anche Firenze, Bologna, Parma e Venezia.
Ritornato in Inghilterra, Reynolds si stabilì a Londra, a Great Newport Street: fu nella capitale britannica che l'artista iniziò ad essere segnato dal successo e dal prestigio professionale, con la realizzazione del ritratto del commodoro Keppel, dipinto nel 1753.
La sua fama era cresciuta a tal punto che le commissioni iniziarono ad arrivare da tutte le parti, facendo sì che diventasse il ritrattista preferito dell'aristocrazia britannica.
Fu un artista estremamente prolifico, tanto che nel 1757 annotò nel suo diario di aver tenuto l'inconcepibile numero di 677 sedute di posa.
Suoi fieri rivali erano Thomas Gainsborough, il ritrattista di corte, e George Romney, ma il Reynolds riuscì comunque a vantare un ineccepibile primato rispetto ai suoi concorrenti.
A questo periodo risalgono alcuni dei capolavori che segnano i raggiungimenti della maturità, nei quali infuse quello che egli stesso ebbe a definire il «grande stile» (Grand Style): i ritratti del Commodoro Keppel, di Mrs. Francis Beckford e di Samuel Johnson sono solo alcune delle tele che il Reynolds andò licenziando in questo giro d'anni.

Fu questa, tra l'altro, una fase della sua vita nella quale il Reynolds maturò rapidamente: grazie alle sue qualità diplomatiche, infatti, venne a contatto non solo con la migliore aristocrazia inglese, ma anche con le più eminenti personalità del tempo.
Fra i suoi amici intimi vi erano Samuel Johnson (per tutta la sua vita legato all'artista da un saldissimo vincolo di amicizia), Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, Giuseppe Baretti, Henry Thrale, David Garrick, Angelica Kauffmann ed altri ancora, che Reynolds ritrasse tutti.
I frutti di tanto arricchimento non poterono tardare: fondata la Royal Academy of Arts nel 1768, Reynolds ne divenne il primo presidente, eletto praticamente all'unanimità, ricevendo l'anno successivo anche un'onorificenza dal Re, a testimonianza del suo riconoscimento artistico.
Durante la presidenza della Royal Academy, che detenne sino alla morte, l'artista pronunciò quindici Discorsi agli studenti, oggi ricordati per la loro sensibilità e magniloquenza: in essi, dopo aver riassunto le teorie artistiche dei secoli precedenti analizzava la funzione dell'arte, che, a suo dire, doveva esprimersi con soggetti «nobili» e «dignitosi», riprendendo i motivi della tradizione classicista, definita come già accennato «grande stile»: invenzione, espressione, colorito e drappeggio.

Reynolds iniziò ad intraprendere lavori di minor mole con il raggiungimento della vecchiaia: le sue energie creative erano ormai esaurite, e l'improvvisa perdita della vista nell'occhio sinistro lo costrinse a ritirarsi dalla scena artistica.
La salute iniziò a farsi sempre più malandata: negli ultimi anni sappiamo infatti che fu «afflitto da varie malattie» e che maturò molte difficoltà a nutrirsi.
Reynolds spirò infine il 23 febbraio 1792 nella sua casa a Londra, assistito dall'amico Burke, che lo pianse sinceramente: memorabile è l'elogio funebre che egli pronunziò al funerale dell'amico.
Le spoglie di Reynolds riposano oggi nella cattedrale di San Paolo londinese.

L'uomo Reynolds

Reynolds era un uomo di statura media, corporatura snella, ed alto pressappoco 1,6 metri. I suoi capelli erano acconciati in riccioli di colore bruno, che James Boswell definì «assolutamente troppo grandi ed artefatti».
La sua faccia era larga ed il suo mento presentava una marcata fossetta, analogamente al suo naso, leggermente ammaccato: un vivido rendiconto fisiognomico dell'artista ci viene dato da Edmond Malone, che scrisse che:
«il suo aspetto a prima vista impressionava lo spettatore, conferendogli l'idea di un gentiluomo inglese di famiglia nobile e ben nutrito».
Rinomato per la sua placidità, Reynolds sovente asseriva di «non odiare nessuno».
Questa sua abituale tranquillità emerge nel giudizio del romanziere inglese William Makepeace Thackeray, secondo cui «di tutti i gentiluomini della sua epoca, Reynolds era certamente il migliore»: anche Samuel Johnson (che, come già accennato, era un suo intimo amico) sottolineò l'«inoffensività» della sua indole.

Produzione artistica

Joshua Reynolds è considerato, insieme a Thomas Gainsborough, il massimo ritrattista inglese. In effetti, nella sua carriera artistica Joshua Reynolds si trovò a far fronte alle richieste di una committenza interessata soprattutto al ritratto, un genere che meglio si adattava alle aspirazioni della classe media, in quanto economicamente vantaggioso e più consono, di quanto non lo fosse un quadro di soggetto storico o mitologico, all'inserimento in ambienti di case borghesi della seconda metà del XVIII secolo.
Il genere venne definito dall'artista «volgare e limitato», in quanto privo di nobili ideali, incapace di restituire, al di là dell'immagine di un singolo uomo, l'idea stessa dell'Uomo.

E tuttavia Reynolds, per giustificare la sua attività, passata e futura, fece appello alla qualità dell'artista che poteva astrarsi dal particolare per cogliere la verità ideale che un volto può comunicare: sebbene la figura umana, un animale o qualche oggetto inanimato non siano soggetti nobili, possono acquistare maggiore dignità, comunicare un sentimento e produrre emozioni.

Del Reynolds esiste un cospicuo numero di opere: di quest'ultime, varie sono esposte in collezioni private, ma ve ne sono esemplari anche alla National Gallery, nella National Portrait Gallery, nella collezione Wallace, nella Kenwood Gallery e nella Dulwich Gallery.
Degni di nota sono il Ritratto di Anna contessa di Albemarle, il Ritratto di Nelly O'Brian, il Ritratto della Duchessa di Hamilton, il Ritratto di Lady Cockburn con tre dei suoi figli (dove viene ripreso lo schema iconografico rinascimentale della Madonna con bambino e san Giovannino), il Ritratto del principe Omai, ed il Ritratto di Lord Heathfield. | © Wikipedia