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January 2005

Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Lady Caroline Howard

Arch Facial Plast Surg. 2005;7(1):68. doi:10.1001/archfaci.7.1.68

Best known for his innovative and insightful portraits of English society, Sir Joshua Reynolds stands out as the most renowned and influential British painter of the 18th century. Reynolds was born the son of a clergyman in Devon in 1723 and began his apprenticeship in the London studio of the celebrated portraitist Thomas Hudson in 1740. In 1749, he accepted an invitation by Commodore Augustus Keppel to accompany him on an expedition to Italy. He remained there for the next 3 years, studying the works of Michelangelo and Raphael in Rome as well as those of the great Venetian colorists Titian and Veronese. Although Reynolds lacked formal academic training, he was particularly impressed with the classical Great Style of the Renaissance masters and attempted to incorporate classically inspired heroic forms into his own paintings. Upon his return to London in 1752, he established his studio in London and began a successful career as the leading portraitist of London society. In 1759 he was elected governor of the Foundling Hospital, a charitable institution and early exhibition space, and in 1769, when the Royal Academy of Arts was founded, he was unanimously elected as its first president. However, although George III knighted him in April 1769, his early attempts to obtain royal commissions were unsuccessful. According to Reynolds’ student and biographer James Northcote, “the king and queen could not endure the presence of him” and were reluctant to sit for him. Following the death of Principal Painter of the court Alan Ramsay in 1784, Reynolds was finally appointed painter to the king, to the displeasure of all parties. Reynolds himself found the position ill paid and lacking in social prestige, and his stilted portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte are counted among his least successful works. During the 1780s Reynolds suffered 2 strokes that eventually left him blind in the left eye and unable to paint. He resigned as president of the Royal Academy in 1789, and when he died, in February 1792, he was buried in state at St Paul’s Cathedral.Article