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Laurence Sterne

1 of 16 portraits of Laurence Sterne

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

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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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

On display in Room 12 at the National Portrait Gallery

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

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Events of 1760back to top

Current affairs

Death of George II on 25 October at the age of 76. George III succeeds to the throne at the age of 22.

Art and science

German artist Johan Zoffany arrives in England, where he is instrumental in reviving the 'conversation piece' genre of painting.
First public exhibition of paintings in England is held at the Society of Arts' Great Room in the Strand, London.
The Public Ledger is founded; the oldest British periodical with continuous daily publication.


Seven Years' War: At the Battle of Carrickfergus in Ireland, a force of French troops captures the town of Carrickfergus before retiring.
Surrender of Montreal to the British under General Jeffrey Amherst signals the virtual loss of Canada by the French. British troops oust the Nawab of Bengal Mir Jafar and replace him with Mir Quasim.
Former Chief Tacky leads an unsuccessful slave rebellion in Jamaica, which aims to overthrow British rule.

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