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Joshua Reynolds

British Artist

Joshua Reynolds Photo
Movements and Styles: Neoclassicism, Realism, The Rococo

Born: July 16, 1723 - Plympton, United Kingdom

Died: February 23, 1792 - Richmond, United Kingdom

"We all know how often those masters, who sought after colouring, changed their manner; whilst others, merely from not seeing various modes, acquiesced all their lives in that with which they set out. On the contrary, I tried every effect of colour, and by leaving out every colour in its turn, showed every colour that I could do without it. As I alternately left out every colour, I tried every new colour; and, often, as is well known, I failed."

Summary of Joshua Reynolds

Reynolds was the leading portraitist of the 18th century, invigorating the genre and raising its status to that of religious and historical works. Well-known and respected during his lifetime, he combined the English style of portraiture with ideas drawn from antiquity and the Old Masters to create fashionable, large-scale images of British high society as well as early celebrities including actors and courtesans. His images often included theatrical elements including colorful props and costumes, imagined pastoral landscapes, and irreverent classical symbolism. Reynolds played a central role in founding the Royal Academy of Arts, which gave artists an opportunity to display their work publicly for the first time, and as its first president, he was widely respected for his intellectual ideas and his emphasis on education, a focus that was apparent through his lecture series Discourses on Art. The Royal Academy became an important breeding ground for new ideas and it is still a bastion of the British art scene today. Its role in promoting art and artists owes a great debt to Reynolds' early involvement and presidential tenure.

Key Ideas

Reynolds was one of the early advocates of the Grand Manner, the style of portraiture for which he became famous and which he helped to define and popularize through his work and his public talks. The Grand Manner borrowed poses and compositions from Classical Art and Renaissance painting and sought to idealize nature rather than copying it directly.
Later in his career, Reynolds coined the term fancy pictures to describe a style of portrait genre painting which he helped to develop. Fancy pictures often featured children in a pastoral or classical setting and the style was also practiced by Thomas Gainsborough.
Reynolds can be seen as an early forerunner of modernism, both in his egalitarian choice of subjects and his fashionable styling of all his sitters regardless of status, but also in his removal of distracting details from his paintings, something that he warned would "dissipate the attention".
Joshua Reynolds Life and Legacy

Joshua Reynolds was one of eleven children born to Theophilia Potter and Samuel Reynolds. His father was a clergyman and master of Plympton Free Grammar School and had previously been a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. Consequently, Reynolds grew up in a comfortable and educated household and he was encouraged to pursue both his academic and artistic interests.

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