Joshua Reynolds


In the second half of the 18th century narrative and satirical themes lost their leading roles in English art. The ruling classes tried to show in art a confirmation and glorification of their social position. The most popular form of painting became ceremonial portraits of representatives of the ruling class. Sir Joshua Reynolds was the most outstanding portraitist of the period. He was born in Devonshire in 1723, he received a good education from his father who was a clergyman and master of the free grammar school. At 17 Reynolds went to London to study painting. In London he soon became a fashionable portrait painter of the day. In December 1768 the Royal Academy was founded and Reynolds became its first president. He created a whole gallery of portraits of the most famous of his contemporaries. He usually painted his characters in heroic style and showed them in all their glory as the best people of the nation. As a result his paintings are not free of a certain idealization of the sitters. One of the portraits to establish his reputation is "Commodore Keppel". This is a full-length portrait. The motive was suggested by Keppel's effort to save the crew of his ship, "the Maidstone", after her wreck in 1747. The attitude of the figure against a stormy background is full of grace and energy. The captain is shown striding along the sea shore in a new and vital way
The contradictory features of Reynolds' art are well seen in his historical and mythological paintings. "The Infant Hercules Strangling Serpents" was ordered by Catherine II of Russia. According to the Greek poet Pindar, Hercules was the natural son of Zeus and Queen Alcmena. The jealous Hera, Zeus' wife put these snakes in his bed. The large painting is complex in composition but it creates a uniform impression, due to-the carefully placed figures and golden brown color scheme.
Reynolds as a painter was greatly influenced by old masters, and made careful studies of Rembrandt, Titian, Michelangelo and Raphael. He didn't want British art to be isolated. He insisted that artists should be brought up in line with European art and that they should develop the Grand style of painting. As a president of the Royal Academy Reynolds delivered lectures. He taught his pupils that it was possible to learn the rules of art and use ideas of the old masters to create a new style of one's own. His aim was to rival the old masters in their own language but not to copy them. He insisted that each sitter should be not just a physical representative to be portrayed but rather a story to be told. His people are no longer static but caught between one moment and the next, between this movement and the next. His aim wasn't to catch a convincing likeness of the originals but to show their features of character? And Reynolds succeeded in revealing his sitters’ inner world.
Reynolds’ “Portrait of Nelly O’Brien”, a well-known beauty of the time, is a masterpiece in which lighting and color show the artist’s technique at its best. There is even an effect of open-air light, rare for the period. A fine colorist and a master of composition, Reynolds was regarded by his contemporaries as “the prince of portrait-painters”. Attention to a man’s personality, striving to reveal a man’s spiritual wealth are combined with traits of intimacy and fine elegancy in Reynolds’ portraits. His work is respected in most public and private collections and he is splendidly shown in The Royal collection. All in all he has created over 2000 portraits during his lifetime.

No comments: