"A room hung with pictures is a room hung with thoughts."
Born 16 July in 1723, in the small town of Plympton, in Devonshire, on the south-west coast of England. At the age of 12 his potential talent was recognised by his father, and he was allowed to enter a 4-year apprenticeship with Thomas Hudson, then the most successful portraitist in London.
Hudson released Reynolds of his apprenticeship after only two years, owing to the young artist's prominent skill and talent. After a brief sojourn in his native Plympton, he moved to Plymouth Dock where he could acquire rich clients and aristocratic connections from the ranks of Navy officers stationed in the town. In 1749 he painted the portrait of the nobleman Augustus Keppel, whom he also befriended and who subsequently invited him to sail aboard his ship to the Mediterranean.
This was the chance Reynolds needed to realise his ambitions of visiting Italy, then the undisputed fountainhead of art in Europe. He financed his journey as he went along by painting more portraits. While in Italy, he worked relatively little, preferring instead to absorb the artistic and visual atmosphere of the churches and palaces he visited, with their collections of Old Master works.
Reynolds returned to London in 1753 with the plan of making a name for himself as a portraitists before embarking upon his true ambition of bringing Continental painting to England and helping local painters rise to prominence in their own country. The plan worked marvellously - within a year he was already hiring assistants, and in 1755, only two years after his return, he painted more than a hundred portraits. He took care to use classical or Renaissance poses and elements in his paintings, in an attempt to "naturalise" the Italian style on British soil.
One of the artist's bigges influences and closest friends was Dr. Samuel Johnson, under whose influence Reynolds was introduced to an education which his youth had lacked, and began publishing articles on art and painting in contemporary art magasines. In 1960 he bought a mansion in what is now Leicester Square, even then a rich part of town, and built a gallery for his own pictures as well as his collection of Continental works. In this house he entertained the intellectual, as well as social, luminaries of the time. He also founded, in 1764, the Literary Club, which boasted as members Dr. Johnson, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith and James Boswell among others.
When the Royal Academy was founded in 1768, Reynolds was the obvious and natural choice for its first President. Through his duties as teacher and policy maker for the Academy he had achieved his dream - to be the a guiding influence on British painting which will help it develop a style and prominence of its own. These duties, which he took extremely seriously, included a yearly Discourse, of which he delivered 15 in his time. These were later collected into a book which defines and encompasses the theory and philosophy of British Academic art.
Reynolds was knighted by George III in 1769, who also appointed him Painter to the King after Allan Ramsay's death in 1784. Unfortunately by that time his eyesight was failing and by 1789 he had stopped painting. Nevertheless he is credited with more than 2000 works, some of which are tragically faded due to his use of asphalt and other experimental pigments.
Sir Joshua Reynolds died in London in 1792.
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