Sir Joshua Reynolds

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Sir Joshua Reynolds

by Sir Joshua Reynolds
oil on canvas, circa 1747-1749
25 in. x 29 1/4 in. (635 mm x 743 mm)
Purchased, 1858
Primary Collection
NPG 41

On display in Room 18 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

  • Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), Painter and first President of the Royal Academy. Sitter associated with 40 portraits, Artist or producer associated with 1425 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), Painter and first President of the Royal Academy. Artist or producer associated with 1425 portraits, Sitter associated with 40 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Reynolds painted numerous self-portraits during his long career. This early example was probably painted just before Reynolds left for his study trip to Italy; at one time vertical in format it was reduced at top and bottom during the nineteenth century.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 43
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Bond; Anthony; Woodall, Joanna, Self Portrait: Renaissance to Contemporary, 2005 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October - 29 January 2006), p. 60
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 30 Read entry

    The future founding president of the Royal Academy shows by this pose his interest in Rembrandt. Reynolds’ ability to absorb different influences was admired by Gainsborough.

  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 57
  • Edited by Rab MacGibbon and Tanya Bentley, Icons and Identities, 2021, p. 122
  • Gibson, Robin, Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery, 1996, p. 57
  • Ingamells, John, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, 2004, p. 393
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 57
  • Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 147
  • Rab MacGibbon, National Portrait Gallery: The Collection, p. 42
  • Rideal, Liz, Insights: Self-portraits, 2005, p. 9 Read entry

    Reynolds was the first President of the Royal Academy of Arts. His annual ‘Discourse’ to the students outlined his painting theories. In this portrait he holds a shovel palette and maulstick in his left hand, while shading his eyes with his right, thereby focusing our attention on his most precious painting tools, his hands and eyes.

  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 94
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 94 Read entry

    Blessed with talent and determined to make good in the metropolis, Reynolds painted himself in his early twenties, wearing a brown coat with a velvet collar worn loose over a blue silk waistcoat, looking out towards the horizon and shading his eyes against the intensity of the light. It is an image that shows him holding the tools of his trade and at the beginning of his career as an artist, before he travelled to Italy. The self-portrait is highly suggestive of Reynolds' confidence in his artisitc powers and the nature of his ambition to compete with the great artists of the past, particularly Rembrandt.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 518
  • Uglow, Jenny, Character Sketches: Dr Johnson, His Club and Other Friends, 1998, p. 30
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 103 Read entry

    The artist Joshua Reynolds was the leading portrait painter in eighteenth-century Britain and the first President of the Royal Academy of Arts. In his attempt to elevate the status of portraiture, he invented a style known as the ‘Grand Manner’ by borrowing from classical antiquity and the Old Masters to invest his portraits with moral and heroic symbolism. Although a prolific self-portraitist, he was determined to raise the social status of the arts and usually presented himself as a gentleman, or ‘man of letters’. This early painting is unique, however, in depicting him at work, clothes loosened and displaying the tools of his trade: a canvas, palette and brushes. Painted just before he left for a formative trip to Italy, this portrait conveys Reynolds’s confidence in his talents and ambitions for the future. The use of chiaroscuro – strong contrast of light and dark – indicate his life-long appreciation of Rembrandt, the most revered master of self-portraiture. The landscape format and pose are also unusual, no doubt a bid by the artist to showcase his versatility and inventiveness: his contemporary and chief rival Thomas Gainsborough allegedly once exclaimed: ‘Damn him, how various he is!’

  • Wendorf, Richard, Sir Joshua Reynolds: The Portrait in Society, 1996, p. 144

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1747back to top

Current affairs

Jacobite Simon Fraser, 11th Baron Lovat is found guilty of high treason and beheaded by axe at the Tower of London; the last man to be executed in this way in Britain.
Abolition of Hereditable Jurisdictions Act breaks the power of the Scottish clans.
Liverpool overtakes Bristol as Britain's busiest slave trading port.

Art and science

Actor David Garrick becomes co-manager of Drury Lane Theatre, London.
Physician James Lind undertakes one of the first controlled medical experiments on the effect of citrus fruit as a cure for scurvy.
Hannah Glasse publishes The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy; eighteenth-century England's most popular cookbook.


War of the Austrian Succession: at the First Battle of Cape Finisterre the British fleet is victorious against the French. British forces led by William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland are subsequently defeated by Marshal Maurice de Saxe's French army at the Battle of Lauffeld near Maastricht. At the Second Battle of Cape Finisterre the British fleet puts an end to French naval operations for the remainder of the war.

Comments back to top

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Chester Wyatt Billingsley

14 January 2021, 19:49

Something you might want to note in the description is that Joshua Reynolds would not have been "Sir" Joshua Reynolds at the time this painting was completed. Reynolds didn't become "sir" until 1769 after helping to found the Royal Academy, this painting was done roughly 20 years prior to that.