Laurence Sterne

1 portrait on display in Room 12 at the National Portrait Gallery

Laurence Sterne, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1760 - NPG 5019 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Laurence Sterne

by Sir Joshua Reynolds
oil on canvas, 1760
50 1/8 in. x 39 1/2 in. (1273 mm x 1003 mm)
Purchased with help from Mr and Mrs Lewis Golden, the Art Fund, the Pilgrim Trust, H.M. Government and the results of a public appeal, 1975
Primary Collection
NPG 5019


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Sitterback to top

  • Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), Writer and divine; author of 'Tristram Shandy'. Sitter in 16 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), Painter and first President of the Royal Academy. Artist associated with 1413 portraits, Sitter associated with 38 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The writer and curate Laurence Sterne held the living of Sutton in Yorkshire and other church preferments between 1738-59 including the prebendary of York Cathedral. He never felt entirely at ease with a religious life, claiming, ' books, painting, fiddling, and shooting were my amusements' and in 1759 published his novel Tristram Shandy. In Reynolds' classically composed portrait Sterne's arm rests upon the manuscript of his first novel which was, at the time the portrait was painted, the talk of London where it was published a year later than in York. Sterne's discursiveness, relaxed style and raciness of expression were a novelty in eighteenth-century literature; immensely popular, Samuel Richardson called the book 'execrable', and Samuel Johnson always spoke of Sterne, whose other great work was his Sentimental Journey of 1768, with scorn. More detailed information on this portrait is available in a National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue, John Kerslake's Early Georgian Portraits (1977, out of print).

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Kerslake, John, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, p. 260
  • Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 152
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 588
  • Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantic Icons, 1999, p. 11

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