The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate,
MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
Two hundred years after his death, Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) is
still considered to be England's single most important painter. A founding
member and first president of the Royal Academy (1768-1790), he made painting
a respectable profession, both socially and intellectually. His Discourses on Art established him as a man of letters. His large clientele
comprised a virtual gallery of the aristocratic families and intelligentsia
of his day. (The surgeon John Hunter was one of his subjects—one of
the few, perhaps only, medical subjects Reynolds is known to have painted.)
Among his close friends were Dr Samuel Johnson, David Garrick, and Oliver
Goldsmith. (Boswell included Reynolds in his Life of Johnson.) Yet, Reynolds is not everyone's cup of tea, neither then nor now.
Despite his success and influence, his merits as a painter continue to be
debated. George III could not abide him (although he did, grudgingly, perhaps,
make him Principal Painter to the King). In our own day, art historian John
Canaday labels him "a first-rate second-rate artist," dismissing him as "an
Southgate MT. Lady Caroline Howard. JAMA. 2000;284(11):1349. doi:10.1001/jama.284.11.1349