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Title: Reynolds
Author: Bensusan, S. L. (Samuel Levy), 1872-1958
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Reynolds" ***

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Internet Archive (http://archive.org)



      some of which are in color.
      Images of the original pages are available through
      Internet Archive. See
      http://archive.org/details/reynolds00bensuoft



Masterpieces in Colour

Edited by--T. Leman Hare

REYNOLDS
1723-1792

      *      *      *      *      *

IN THE SAME SERIES

    ARTIST.                AUTHOR.
  VELAZQUEZ.             S. L. BENSUSAN.
  REYNOLDS.              S. L. BENSUSAN.
  TURNER.                C. LEWIS HIND.
  ROMNEY.                C. LEWIS HIND.
  GREUZE.                ALYS EYRE MACKLIN.
  BOTTICELLI.            HENRY B. BINNS.
  ROSSETTI.              LUCIEN PISSARRO.
  BELLINI.               GEORGE HAY.
  FRA ANGELICO.          JAMES MASON.
  REMBRANDT.             JOSEF ISRAELS.
  LEIGHTON.              A. LYS BALDRY.
  RAPHAEL.               PAUL G. KONODY.
  HOLMAN HUNT.           MARY E. COLERIDGE.
  TITIAN.                S. L. BENSUSAN.
  MILLAIS.               A. LYS BALDRY.
  CARLO DOLCI.           GEORGE HAY.
  GAINSBOROUGH.          MAX ROTHSCHILD.
  TINTORETTO.            S. L. BENSUSAN.
  LUINI.                 JAMES MASON.
  FRANZ HALS.            EDGCUMBE STALEY.
  VAN DYCK.              PERCY M. TURNER.
  LEONARDO DA VINCI.     M. W. BROCKWELL.
  RUBENS.                S. L. BENSUSAN.
  WHISTLER.              T. MARTIN WOOD.
  HOLBEIN.               S. L. BENSUSAN.
  BURNE-JONES.           A. LYS BALDRY.
  VIGÉE LE BRUN.         C. HALDANE MACFALL.
  CHARDIN.               PAUL G. KONODY.
  FRAGONARD.             C. HALDANE MACFALL.
  MEMLINC.               W. H. J. & J. C. WEALE.
  CONSTABLE.             C. LEWIS HIND.
  RAEBURN.               JAMES L. CAW.
  JOHN S. SARGENT.       T. MARTIN WOOD.

_Others in Preparation._

      *      *      *      *      *


[Illustration: PLATE I.--MRS. HOARE AND CHILD. In the Wallace
Collection, London. (Frontispiece)

This picture is perhaps one of Sir Joshua Reynolds' most beautiful
compositions. The flesh painting is very fine and the handling of the
dress remarkably free, its delicate colouring being in beautiful harmony
with the surroundings. The painter gave us a portrait of the same child
when he was a boy; it is now in the collection of Baron Albert de
Rothschild. Sir Joshua made for this picture a sketch in oils which
hangs in the Gallery at Bridgewater House.]



REYNOLDS

by

S. L. BENSUSAN

Illustrated with Eight Reproductions in Colour



[Illustration]

London: T. C. & E. C. Jack
New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co.



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


  Plate
     I. Mrs. Hoare and Child                    Frontispiece
          In the Wallace Collection, London
                                                        Page
    II. Nelly O'Brien                                     14
          In the Wallace Collection, London

   III. The Three Graces                                  24
          In the National Gallery, London

    IV. The Age of Innocence                              34
          In the National Gallery, London

     V. Lord Heathfield                                   40
          In the National Gallery, London

    VI. Portrait of Two Gentlemen                         50
          In the National Gallery, London

   VII. Portrait of Lady and Child                        60
          In the National Gallery, London

  VIII. Duchess of Devonshire and Child                   70
          At Chatsworth House, Derbyshire



[Illustration]

There are certain men born to every generation who approach life with
the complete assurance of distinction in any work that they may have
chosen for the exercise of their gifts. They are strangers to doubt and
uncertainty; they disarm Fortune by claiming freely as a right what she
is accustomed to grant grudgingly as a favour--"they ride Life's lists
as a knight might ride." One feels that these fortunate few are destined
for success just as the majority are doomed to failure, that nothing
save a long series of mishaps can keep them from the goal of their
ambition. They have the temperament that makes achievement easy, and a
steadfast determination that the demons of mischance cannot resist for
long.

When one turns to consider English art in the eighteenth century, the
name of Joshua Reynolds stands out in a brighter light than any
other. One would not say that he was the greatest painter of his
time--Gainsborough's gifts exceeded his in many directions, and Romney
enters into competition too--but Reynolds was born under a fortunate
star, and Nature gave him as a birthday present a rare mixture of
talent, industry, and common-sense, together with a sober judgment that
could not be turned aside by passion or emotion. Such gifts, if they do
not always create a genius, may enable their possessor to achieve work
that has certain affinities with the masterpieces of the immortals.
Nobody in these days would deny for a moment that Reynolds possessed
qualifications of the highest order; but ours is an age of hero-worship,
and we are rather inclined to go beyond our brief in dealing with a
representative man whose work has survived the criticism (though, alas,
it has not always survived the atmosphere) of nearly two centuries.
Reynolds is not the less a great painter because he did not happen to be
the great man so many of his biographers have seen, nor was he a
heaven-sent genius of the kind that flutters the musical dovecots from
time to time. Infant prodigies are hardly known in the world of art,
and Reynolds started life as a clever young man determined to make a
name. He became soon a painter strong enough to realise his own
limitations and those of his age, and to take the best possible steps to
secure for his own art, and incidentally for that of his country, the
highest position in the esteem of the world at large. Had there been no
Reynolds there might have been no Royal Academy--the Institution in its
earliest days was indebted very deeply to him. Himself far above the
squabbles of the hour, he raised the Royal Academy into the serene and
almost untroubled atmosphere in which he lived his life.

[Illustration: PLATE II.--NELLY O'BRIEN. (In the Wallace Collection)

This portrait is one of the best examples of Sir Joshua's art, and was
painted in 1763. The shadow on the face is most skilfully managed. The
lace round the arm and the skirt are painted in the artist's best
manner. It will be remembered that Sir Joshua painted other portraits of
this fascinating woman.]

"I will be a painter, if you will give me the chance of being a good
one," he is said to have remarked when quite a lad, and this is but
one of the simple sentences that hold and in a sense reveal the keynote
of his character. Reynolds was determined to succeed. When he started
his work there were few people in England who could guide him in the
right way, and consequently we must not look for any great achievement
in the early portraits. The painter may be said to have owed his first
success to Commodore Keppel, who took him on a cruise in the
Mediterranean and helped him to come into touch with the great
masterpieces that will probably stimulate artists for all time. In
return, the painter gave the sailor a measure of fame that his naval
achievements would hardly have secured.

Italy turned the dross of Reynolds' art to fine gold, and he never
shrank from acknowledging the debt. Had he stayed in England he might
have been a greater man than all his contemporaries, save Gainsborough
and Romney, but he could not have given the world any one of the
pictures that are reproduced here. Art will not yield to inspiration
alone. The musician, or the literary man, with very simple education may
be able to achieve wonders, but the artist who looks to brushes and
colours for his medium must sacrifice diligently for many years at the
shrine of technique before his hand can express what is in his brain.
The years between 1749 and 1752, devoted by Reynolds to studying and
copying the Vatican frescoes and the pictures of Padua, Milan, Turin,
and Paris, were invaluable. Indeed he was one of the greatest copyists
of his time, and Sir Walter Armstrong thinks that one of his copies of a
Rembrandt is classed among the originals in the National Gallery
to-day!

Down to the year of the Italian journey the young painter's life had
been quite uneventful. Born in 1723 at Plympton in Devonshire, where his
father was a school-master, he was apprenticed in London to Thomas
Hudson, a portrait painter of the day and a Devon man too. Hudson gave
his pupil Guercino's drawings to copy. Before the time of apprenticeship
had expired Reynolds had quarrelled with his master and gone back to
Devonshire, where he painted work that was of no great importance, under
the patronage of the first Lord Edgcumbe. At his house Reynolds met the
Commodore Keppel, whose kindness enabled him to see Italy, and it was
the sojourn in that real home of art that brought Reynolds back to
England a portrait painter of the first class.

Michelangelo had impressed him deeply. In later days he never lost an
opportunity of advising students to sit at the feet of the great master,
and the influence of the work in the Sistine Chapel may be noted in the
famous picture of Mrs. Siddons, now to be seen in the Dulwich Gallery.
Ludovico Caracci and Guido had given him hints that were of infinite
value in the moulding of his technique; for colour he had gone to
Titian, Tintoretto, and Rubens, of whom the last named was beginning to
lose his appeal in the last years of Reynolds' life. Sir Joshua had a
supreme facility for taking from every artist the best that was in him,
melting it in the crucible of his own thought, and applying the product
to his pictures. There is no doubt that the sixteenth-century Venetians
impressed Reynolds as much as they impressed Ruskin at a later date, but
in the middle of the eighteenth century the school of Bologna was in
the ascendant in England, and it is through Reynolds' actions rather
than his words that we see how Venice had influenced him. Sir Walter
Armstrong thinks that Reynolds lived well rather than wisely in Italy,
and that when he came back to town his wild oats were all sown, but it
is hard to find any justification for the belief that Reynolds was at
any time of his life a free liver. The pleasures of the table may have
claimed him when he reached middle age; indeed, Dr. Johnson said to him
on one occasion, "You complain about the tea I drink, but I do not count
the glasses you empty," or words to that effect. As far as other forms
of dissipation go, there is no evidence that Reynolds was ever a victim
to them. He was always perfect master of his self-control, and when the
years had toned down certain faults of thought and manner, he became
mellowed, like old wine, and not less stimulating.

Students of the famous discourses that Sir Joshua addressed annually to
the Royal Academy after he became first President of the new
institution, may be justified if they suspect that the great painter
adopted the same rule in dealing with his students that skilled musical
composers use when dealing with their pupils. A musican knows that the
laws of harmony and counterpoint are not fixed, that the musical horizon
widens year by year, and that rules may often be disregarded by a
composer who has something to say; but, in order that composition may
grow from some definite form, it is necessary that the rules should be
mastered before they are disregarded. So in dealing with things of art,
Reynolds said much to his audience that his own practice did not bear
out. He would not hint at his own preferences quite so frankly as his
canvases did and it is not at all unlikely that he realised as well as
we do, that while students, like the poor, are always with us, great
artists are few and far between, and will survive all academic
limitations.

When Reynolds came back to England in 1752, he went down to Devonshire
to recruit his health. While his sojourn abroad had been productive of
so much that had been invaluable to him, he had met with two unfortunate
accidents. In Minorca he had fallen from his horse and sustained
injuries that had left his face scarred for all time. In the Vatican he
had sustained a chill that brought about the deafness destined to be a
life-long infirmity. So he took holiday in the county he loved so well,
and after his return he opened a studio in St. Martin's Street, acting
on the advice of his friend and patron, Lord Edgcumbe. There was no
period of weary waiting. Thanks to the quality of his work and the
patronage granted so freely, he began at once to enjoy the success that
belongs to the popular portrait painter. A little later he moved to
Great Newport Street, where the accommodation was better suited to the
growing claims of sitters, and in 1760 he went to 47 Leicester Square,
now an auction-house, where he lived for the remainder of his life. As
he moved he raised his prices, but nobody seemed to mind. Everybody who
was anybody, paid cheerfully. So did some of the other people.

[Illustration: PLATE III.--THE THREE GRACES. (In the National Gallery)

This picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1774 and called,
"Three Ladies adorning a Term of Hymen." It was bequeathed to the
National Gallery by the Earl of Blessington. The Graces are the three
daughters of Sir W. Montgomery. The one on the left kneeling down is the
Hon. Mrs. Beresford, in the centre is the Hon. Mrs. Gardener, mother of
Lord Blessington, and on the right is the Marchioness Townsend.]

Many artists remain painters all their lives. Meet them in a studio or
at a private view and they are illuminating; talk about another
lying outside their immediate interests and they are dumb, or worse, for
some talk without saying anything, as though they were mere politicians.
Perhaps we have no right to complain of this lack of mental dimensions,
but it is permissible to note with pleasure the few cases in which an
artist reveals himself as an accomplished man of the world. Reynolds
would never have been content to be nothing more than a painter, and he
chose his friends so wisely that the living served him as well as the
dead. If the great artists of Italy had shed light upon his path in one
direction, what did he not owe to the men of his own generation, whose
society must have been a source of inspiration to any intelligent man?
Dr. Johnson himself could only have been inspiring company, even though
we may think in our heart of hearts that the benefit of the inspiration
was not without serious drawbacks. Reynolds enjoyed also the intimate
friendship of Garrick, Goldsmith, Gibbon, and Burke, he consorted with
many other men who made some mark in the world of thought, and in this
atmosphere the extraordinary receptivity of his mind must have served
him to great advantage. He had human weaknesses to live down, and it is
to his credit that he conquered all or most of them. Like so many honest
Englishmen, there was a touch of the snob about him--witness his
correspondence with Lord Edgcumbe during the first visit to the
Continent. He was not without jealousy, as may be seen from his pettish
condemnation of the work of Liotard, the miniature painter and
pastellist, and his references to Gainsborough and Romney, whose
success and accomplishments galled him not a little. He was vulgar,
until he learned refinement from the distinguished people with whom he
was brought into contact--witness the gilded coach and gaudy liveries he
bought when he established himself in Leicester Square, the coach in
which his unfortunate sister Frances was compelled to drive in order
that the man in the street might stare open-mouthed and talk about her
brother. There is hardly a "Lion Comique," or a lady of the music halls
drawing prime minister's salary for songs blatant or obscene, who would
commit such an offence to-day, and against these lapses from taste Sir
Joshua's acquaintance with the best minds of his day failed to save him.
Perhaps the atmosphere of Leicester Square in the eighteenth, as in the
twentieth, century was a little theatrical. Of course the faults of a
man and the merits of his work are distinct and stand apart from one
another, but we are too apt to look at Reynolds the man in the light of
Goldsmith's epitaph, and it is the failing of popular biography to
supply popular people with a measure of moral equipment that would make
a saint self-conscious. It is far more interesting to see great men as
they lived, and understand that, like the rest of us, they had a fair,
or unfair, share of faults. Had Sir Joshua possessed twice as many
failings, he would still remain one of the greatest, if not the
greatest, of British portrait painters. Had he associated all the
virtues with less achievement, he could not have interested us, because
happily we do not judge art by the moral standard of the artist.

Perhaps the most remarkable side of Reynolds' mind was seen in its
response to the real truths that underlie all the arts. He held his work
to be a mode of expressing human experience, he knew that there was a
domain lying beyond the reach of rules, and bade his students look "with
dilated eye," sacrificing detail to general effect for the sake of the
best and most imaginative work. He declared without any reservations,
that he had found art in England in the lowest possible state, he
compared some of his contemporaries' work with sign-post painting, but
his fine courage was only stimulated by the bad conditions that
prevailed. He sought to raise them, and as a portrait painter, made it
his business to discover the perfections of his sitters, with the
result, that, as his genius was wholly interpretative, his pictures
stand rather less for his sitters than for their time.

A weak man might have succumbed to the temptations that beset Reynolds
when he had established himself in Leicester Square. He was in a sense
the darling of society, earning a larger income than had been gained by
any of his contemporaries, although he painted for prices that a
third-rate man could gain to-day, if we do not regard the changed value
of money. But Reynolds never succumbed to society; he conquered it,
showing himself worthy of all the success that came to him. He did his
best, he worked hard, relaxing his efforts only when his position was
unassailable, took his enjoyment temperately, if we consider the age in
which he lived, and never forgot that his chief aim and object in life
was to paint portraits, and to paint them as well as he could. There
were years in which he completed from three to four portraits every
week, but by the time he was President of the Royal Academy, the output
had fallen to sixty or seventy a year, no small achievement for a man
who was at liberty to enjoy all that was best, and brightest, and most
enduring in London society, and everything most attractive in the
country.

The life and times of Sir Joshua have a special interest for British
artists, even apart from his work, because he lived through the years of
storm and strife that saw the development of the R.A. It is not easy to
tell in full the story of its establishment without long and detailed
references to the quarrels and intrigues of the artists of the day and
even then it is not easy to see the truth clearly through the mists of
controversy. None of Sir Joshua's biographies goes uncontradicted, and
it is safe to say that we must be content to forego for all time exact
knowledge of certain incidents in the life of Reynolds. He had
considerable reserve, a fair sense of diplomacy, and was not without
knowledge that there were foes as well as friends in the crowd that
surrounded him. His contemporaries were often baffled by his silence,
and the secrets of his tastes and intimate likes and dislikes died with
him. He had friends, but no confidantes. A brief outline of the creation
of the R.A. is all that needs be given here.

[Illustration: PLATE IV.--THE AGE OF INNOCENCE.

(In the National Gallery)

This picture was bought at the sale of Mr. Harman's pictures. It has
been engraved two or three times and is one of the most popular examples
of the master's work.]

In the year 1760, when Reynolds was approaching the zenith of his fame,
an art exhibition was held in London, attracted a great deal of
attention, and became an annual institution. Thereafter, we begin to
hear of the Society of Artists, which received from George III. a
certificate of Incorporation in 1765, blossomed out with the
grandiloquent title of the "Incorporated Society of Artists of Great
Britain," and published a list of two hundred and eleven members,
including Joshua Reynolds. An offshoot from this society was known as
the Free Society of Artists; in the history of art there have always
been some men "agin the government." Heart-burning and jealousy were
associated with the work of the Incorporated Society, and William
Chambers the architect, who had the king's ear, brought about the
foundation of the R.A. Reynolds took no visible part in the intrigue, in
fact he was abroad during the months when the squabbles were most
violent, and when the Presidency was offered to him, he asked for time
to discuss the matter with Dr. Johnson and Edmund Burke. Apparently he
had studied Shakspere's "Julius Cæsar." In December 1768, the
constitution of the Royal Academy was signed by the King, and the
Incorporated Society was left to linger for a few years in the cold
shades of opposition and then depart from a world that had no further
use for it. William Chambers and Benjamin West seem to have done all
that was necessary to bring King George on to the side of the new
venture, which had a very wide constitution, and thirty-six original
members, including two ladies, Angelica Kaufmann and Mary Moser. William
Chambers became Treasurer, Dalton was appointed Antiquary, Goldsmith was
Professor of Ancient History, and Dr. Johnson stood for Ancient
Literature. Curiously enough, it was the foundation by Captain Coram of
the Foundling Hospital that led indirectly to the creation of the Royal
Academy. Hogarth, who was a great friend of Coram, gave pictures for the
gallery in the Hospital, Reynolds' old master, Hudson, Reynolds
himself, and Wilson, a contemporary painter of great achievement, did
the same. Mr. Claude Phillips, whose life of Sir Joshua Reynolds is one
of the best written and most discerning tributes to the master extant,
thinks that the success of the gallery at the Foundlings led to the
opening of the first exhibition of pictures by living masters in 1860.
The Society of Arts was then six years old, and the Society of Artists
was established in friendly rivalry. We have remarked that at the time
when the Incorporated Society of Artists was engaged in the final
quarrel that led to the foundation of the Academy, Sir Joshua was
travelling abroad with Richard Burke. His absence from the scene of
strife is more likely to have been diplomatic than unintentional.



II


We have now come down to the year 1769, and may pause with advantage to
recall some of Sir Joshua's achievements and experiences that have been
omitted from a rather hurried survey. He has already painted many of the
most famous men and women of his time, and his contributions to the
exhibitions of the Society of Artists have been the admiration of all
who take an interest in pictures. Here some of his most famous pictures
have been hung, the "Lady Elizabeth Keppel as a bridesmaid," the
"Countess Waldegrave," "Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy" (now in Lord
Rothschild's town house) and many others too numerous to be mentioned in
such a brief review as this.

[Illustration: PLATE V.--LORD HEATHFIELD. (In the National Gallery)

This work which is held by good judges to be one of the most
characteristic portraits painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds was commissioned
by Alderman Boydell in 1787. In the background there is a view of the
Rock of Gibraltar much obscured by smoke, for the picture commemorates
the defence of the Rock from 1779 to 1783 by Lord Heathfield, then
General Eliott. The gallant soldier holds the key of the fortress in his
hand. The picture was purchased by the Government for the National
Gallery in 1824.]

He has made another pleasant journey into Devonshire, this time in
company with Dr. Johnson, whose consumption of cider and cream has
created a mild sensation. He has visited Wilton and Longford, where some
of his works may be seen to-day; he has enlarged his circle of friends,
while his acquaintances are as the sands upon the seashore for
multitude. He belongs to the once famous Dilettanti Society, founded in
1732 to study antiquities and arts; he has painted his own portrait to
celebrate his election, and presented it to the Society. It may be seen
in the Grafton Gallery to-day, together with two groups of members
painted at a later date.

His drawing has become strong, his modelling firm, and his colour has
many of the qualities that distinguished the Venetian masters he loved
so well, but, alas, he has not learned the secrets of permanent
colouring, and some of his most brilliant glazes are beginning to fade
before the eyes of the troubled owners of the pictures. He has
surrendered to the pseudo-classicism of his age, and some of his
compositions are absurdly indebted to mythology; but the fault was a
virtue then, and while we complain it is only right to refer the
grievance to the time rather than to the man, and a study of Boswell
explains the painter's attitude, even though it cannot justify it.

He has found time to enjoy the pursuits of a country gentleman; he
shoots and hunts in the best sporting circles. His home in Leicester
Square is open to all sorts and conditions of men; the leading lights of
the day--Gainsborough and Romney excepted--are welcome. He keeps a
liberal but ill-served table, and his friends will find a welcome if
they call in time for dinner at five o'clock, even if they must
scramble for a fair share of the meal. He has lost the raw manners of
early years, _faux pas_ are few and far between. From Johnson he has
acquired a certain literary style, rather heavy and turgid, perhaps, but
precise and final. It is possible, but not certain, that "The Club" has
been established, and that the twelve original members are meeting for
supper at the sign of the Turk's Head in Gerrard Street. He has pupils,
for whom he does little or nothing, and assistants who paint draperies
for him, and receive a little useful instruction now and again.
Northcote, who is to publish his "Memoirs of Sir Joshua Reynolds" nearly
half a century later, and become the one successful painter from the
Leicester Square establishment, has met the great man in Devonshire with
emotions similar to those that Reynolds felt in the far away days when,
an unknown pupil of Hudson, he saw the great and distinguished author of
"The Rape of the Lock" in the centre of an admiring and respectful
crowd.

Who shall do justice to the crowds that thronged the studio? Certainly
mere words cannot picture the scenes that the old house in Leicester
Square witnessed in those stirring times. Deafness could hardly have
been an unmixed evil to a man whose sitters were of the most diverse
kind. Leslie and Taylor in their voluminous work, "The Life and Times of
Sir Joshua Reynolds," have written at length upon this aspect of the
painter's daily life, and have described the constant stream of men and
women who could not have been placed side by side for five minutes save
on the walls of the exhibition. Representatives of the most opposed
school of politics, High Church dignitaries, courtesans, soldiers,
flaneurs, society women, sailors, ambassadors, actors, children, members
of the Royal Family, men from the street, like White the paviour--one
and all claimed the measure of immortality that his brush confers, and
if his best work could but have retained its qualities, the latter half
of the eighteenth century would be preserved for us in fashion
calculated to make future generations envious. Unfortunately, Sir Walter
Armstrong, the painter's most trenchant latter day critic, is justified
when he writes: "Speaking roughly, Sir Joshua's early pictures darken,
the works of his middle period fade, those of his late maturity crack.
The productions of his first youth and of his old age stand best of
all." When the worst has been said, it is a glorious heritage that the
painter left to his country, but who can avoid regrets when thinking
what it might have been if Reynolds had mastered the secrets of
permanent colour, if the carmine and lake had endured, and the more
brilliant effects had not been so largely experimental--if he had given
them a fair trial in studies before he used them for his best work?
Perhaps his success left no time for experiments. Sitters were urgent
and could not wait while the painter studied the question of the
chemistry of pigments.

There is a curiously sane and optimistic note about all the Reynolds
portraits. Even where he does not succeed--in painting portrait groups,
for example--the fault is merely one of composition, he keeps to his
earliest intention of expressing what is best in the sitter, and seeing
him "with dilated eye"; he is merely unable to set several figures upon
the same canvas. Save for ever increasing deafness and a little trouble
with sister Frances, who keeps house for him and is not cast in the same
placid mould, nothing occurs to disturb the even tenor of his happy
life. Intellect rules emotions--either he has no feeling for intrigue or
he can keep his emotions beyond the reach of prying eyes. Even his
relations with Angelica Kaufmann, now in her twenty-eighth year, and an
original member of the Royal Academy, baffle the censors who would fain
discover that she was the painter's mistress. "His heart has grown
callous by contact with women," says one of his contemporaries or
biographers, and this may well be so. Angelica Kaufmann was one of the
women who attract men, and there is no evidence to show that Reynolds
was more than a good friend to her. Long years later, when the visits to
Leicester Square could have been no more than a memory, she attracted
Goethe, who used to read to her some of his unpublished work. The
painter's self-control has made some of his biographers angry; they
write as though fearful lest, on account of his virtue, there shall be
no more cakes and ale, and ginger shall no longer be hot in the mouth.
If they could but catch him tripping, he might return to the highest
place in their affections, and all would be forgiven. There is something
so human in this attitude that it becomes almost tolerable, though it is
hard to avoid a smile when one finds that the subject of the relations
between Sir Joshua and Miss Kaufmann have been discussed quite seriously
by foreign writers. If Sir Joshua could have made the lady a better
artist, if it can be shown that he saved her from being a worse one than
she was, there is something to write about; the subject of their
personal relations cannot possibly concern the world at large, and is
not worth a tithe of the ink that has been spilt in attack or defence.

[Illustration: PLATE VI.--PORTRAIT OF TWO GENTLEMEN. (In the National
Gallery)

This picture was painted in 1778 and presented to the National Gallery
in 1866 by Mrs. Plenge. The gentleman on the right examining the prints
and holding a violin in his right hand is one J. C. W. Bampfylde, the
one on the left is the Rev. George Huddersford who was for some years a
painter and a pupil of Sir Joshua.]



III


We owe an apology to the new President whom we left standing upon the
threshold of the Royal Academy, which opened its doors with a first
exhibition of one hundred and thirty-six pictures! The memory of this
commendable modesty should not be allowed to fade in these days when
canvas stretches by the acre over the long-suffering walls of Burlington
House, when artists appear not singly but in battalions and the cry is
"still they come." In April 1769 Reynolds received the honour of
knighthood and this seems to have put the finishing touches to his
social claims. Henceforward he painted fewer portraits; the records of
1771 credit him with a mere seventy, and though this figure may make
modern men gasp, it compares but feebly with the one hundred and
eighty-four that stood to the credit of an earlier year. The President
increased the number of his clubs, enlarged his dining circle, became
more and more dignified, mellow, gracious, and urbane, farther removed
than before from the turmoil that was going on in art circles of the
less successful men around him. Having all the cream he required, he was
not concerned with quarrels about skimmed milk. Some of his biographers
think that Romney was beginning to compete with the master, and that
this competition accounts for the diminishing number of his sitters, but
it is reasonable to suppose that a man who can make his own prices and
is beyond the reach of want may regard seventy portraits as a very
satisfactory output for one year, when he has other duties to fulfil and
is by temperament a lover of the world's good things. Fortune could have
given him nothing more, unless the hearing that passed in the old days
of the pilgrimage to Rome had been restored, and if such a miracle could
have been vouchsafed, the painter's splendid indifference to matters
that annoy quick, nervous temperaments might have passed, and the latter
days might have been clouded. If wisdom at one entrance was nearly shut
out, there was plenty left, as may be gathered from a study of the
Discourses. Their vitality is proved by the fact that new editions are
still called for, and many members of the more modern schools of
painting declare that Reynolds saw some aspects of painting with
twentieth-century eyes.

In 1773 Plympton remembered its famous artist and elected him mayor, an
honour that touched him nearly. One cannot help thinking that it was
more to him even than the degree of Doctor of Civil Law, conferred in
the same year by Oxford University _de honoris causa_, though this too
helped him to paint his own portrait in flamboyant style, and the artist
loved colour. One portrait of himself was sent to the town of Plympton
and hung between two pictures that were "old masters" according to the
leading lights of the Corporation. In truth, they were two of Sir
Joshua's own early works, and from this simple story we may learn that
artists come and artists go, but the mental calibre of corporations is
constant and not subject to change. He sent another picture of himself
to the Uffizzi Gallery in Florence, where so many Masters stand
self-committed to canvas in pictures that do not err upon the side of
making the sitters lack distinction.

The next eight years were uneventful, save for the fact that the
President was doing some of his best work and enjoying life in the
fullest and most complete fashion imaginable. Nearly all who knew him
loved him, and to the great majority of men and women he was just and
kind. For a man so completely free from emotion and self-revelation,
Reynolds claimed a very large circle of intimates, and it was hardly an
age of introspection. Men confessed themselves to their Maker but not to
their friends; the formalities of life and speech presented an effective
barrier to the emotions, even the stage was as artificial and pompous as
it could be. One may perhaps acknowledge an uneasy feeling that David
Garrick himself would make a very small impression upon a latter-day
audience, if he confronted it with the mid-eighteenth-century style of
speech and action.

In 1780 the Academy Exhibition was transferred from Pall Mall to
Somerset House, where it was destined to remain until 1838, the year of
its removal to the National Gallery, where it stayed thirty-one years on
the way to Burlington House. Among the portraits painted by the
President in that year was one of General Oglethorpe, who, according to
the "Table Talk" of Samuel Rogers (quoted by Sir Walter Armstrong),
could tell of the days when he had shot snipe in Conduit Street. In the
following year Reynolds painted the wonderful picture of the Ladies
Horatia, Laura, and Maria Waldegrave, one of the few groups whose
arrangement is beyond cavil. Few will look in vain to that picture for
any of the finest qualities of Sir Joshua's art. He had very little to
learn, though in the summer and autumn of 1781 he visited the Low
Countries, staying in Bruges, Brussels, The Hague, Amsterdam, and other
cities, and showing himself strangely indifferent to the pictures of
Franz Hals, though these might have been presumed to appeal to any
portrait painter. His records and impressions of the journey were set
down most carefully, and are preserved; they show that success had not
impaired discernment, and that the painter was responsive to most of the
thoughts that stir educated visitors to the Dutch galleries to-day.

In 1782, the year in which Romney painted his first picture of Mistress
Hart, afterwards Lady Emma Hamilton, Reynolds sat to his great rival
Gainsborough, now at the height of his fame and in the last years of his
life; the two men disliked each other, and the picture was never
completed. Some say that Reynolds made a hasty remark about his fixed
determination not to paint Gainsborough's portrait in return, and some
mischief-maker carried the words to Gainsborough. Others think that the
touch of palsy or slight attack of paralysis that came to Sir Joshua
about the time of the sitting, brought it to a close. There must be more
than this underlying the true story of the affair, for though a visit to
Brighton and to Bath restored the President's health, the sittings were
not resumed, even when Reynolds wrote to say he was ready to sit again.
In 1783 Sir Joshua sent ten portraits to the Academy, while
Gainsborough, exhibiting there for the last time, sent twenty-five
pictures, including the famous panels of George III., and his
children, now in Windsor. But Reynolds added to his fame in this year,
for he painted the portrait of Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse. Then he
paid another visit to the Low Countries, to find with regret that
Rubens' appeal was failing.

[Illustration: PLATE VII.--PORTRAIT OF LADY AND CHILD. (In the National
Gallery)

This portrait was purchased in 1871 with the Peel collection and is said
to represent the Hon. Mrs. Musters and her son. The composition does not
show Sir Joshua at his best, and the painting is perhaps rather thin.
The identity is not very clearly established, although the names of Mr.
and Mrs. Musters are to be found in Sir Joshua's account books.]

In the following year, 1784, Sir Joshua sent sixteen pictures to the
Academy, including the famous Mrs. Siddons, Charles James Fox, and Mrs.
Abingdon as Roxalana. Gainsborough had quarrelled with the R.A. and
exhibited no more, though he lived until 1788. With December, Dr.
Johnson's strenuous and useful life came to an end; he passed away
exhorting his old friend never to paint on Sunday, and to read the
Bible. Reynolds has left a very interesting study of the Doctor's
character. In the following year, the President went for the third time
to the Low Countries, and bought a number of pictures; he also received
the honour of a commission from Catherine, Empress of Russia, and
painted the beautiful picture of the Duchess of Devonshire and her baby
that hangs at Chatsworth to-day. Walpole said, "it is little like, and
not good," but posterity has declined to accept the verdict. Sir Walter
Armstrong considers that it ranks with the "Lady Crosbie" and "Nelly
O'Brien" as the "most entirely successful creations" of the artist.
In '87 the President sent thirteen pictures to the Academy, including
the "Angel's Heads" now in the National Gallery. They are studies of
Frances Isabella Gordon, daughter of Lord William Gordon, and the
picture was given to the Gallery in 1841. A year later, London saw the
picture that the Empress Catherine had commissioned, the subject is
"The Infant Hercules" and the canvas hangs in the Hermitage Gallery at
St. Petersburg. It is one of the artist's failures, and he received
fifteen hundred guineas for it. This is the date of the famous
Marlborough family group that is to be seen at Blenheim.

A year later, when the President sent some dozen pictures to the R.A.,
his activity came to a sudden end. Some forty years and more had passed
since he painted the first of his works that concerns us, and he had not
known an idle season. His record would have brought honour to any three
men; he had lived as a philosopher should, grateful for the gifts of the
gods, and not abusing any. Suddenly, in mid-July of 1789, about the time
of the fall of the Bastille, one eye failed him as he worked at his
easel; he laid his brush aside. "All things have an end--I have come to
mine," he remarked, with the quiet courage that never deserted him, and
he spent what remained to him of life making gradual preparation for the
last day, sustained by memories of the past through hours that were not
always free from pain and distress. Save for a quarrel with the Academy,
arising out of the contest for membership between Bonomi and Fuseli,
there was nothing to disturb the closing years of the old painter's
public life, and even in this quarrel, he was the victor. The General
Assembly apologised, and Reynolds withdrew his resignation, though
Chambers, now Sir William, was obliged to act for him at Somerset House.
In December of 1790 Reynolds delivered his final address to the
students, the name of Michelangelo being last upon his lips. Little more
than a year before he died, the President sat to the Swedish artist von
Breda, for a picture now in the Stockholm Academy. West did his
presidential work for him in the last months of his life.

Many friends testify to the tranquillity of these last days, though
failing sight and the deprivation of the liberal diet to which he was
accustomed had lowered the spirits that were once bright as well as
serene. Perhaps modern medical science would have availed to lengthen
his life, and make the last few years more worth living; but in the
eighteenth century one needed a very sturdy constitution to endure the
combined attack of a disease and a doctor. Sir Joshua was in his
sixty-ninth year--he had lived in the fullest sense all the time--and
when one evening in February 1792 Death came to the House in Leicester
Square, his visit was quite expected, and was met with a tranquil mind.
The body lay in state awhile in the Royal Academy, and was then taken to
St. Paul's Cathedral, and laid by the side of Sir Christopher Wren.
To-day we look at the artist's work with a critical eye--he can no
longer thrive by comparison with contemporaries, but must compete with
all dead masters of portraiture; and it will be admitted on every side
that he holds his own, that before every throne of judgment his best
works will plead for him and vindicate the admiration of his countrymen.

It is not the least of his claims to high consideration that his art
moved steadily forward, that the last work was the best.



IV


Naturally it is impossible within the limits of a small and
unpretentious monograph to give an adequate idea of the range and
variety of the labours that occupied Sir Joshua Reynolds for half a
century or more, and no attempt will be made in this place to do more
than indicate the forces that seem to have directed his brush, the
masters whose labour inspired it. It has been pointed out in these pages
that Reynolds was a great assimilator. He took from everybody, but he
was always judicious, because, quite apart from his executive faculties,
he had a critical gift of the first order. One has but to turn to his
diaries to realise that his instinct was singularly sound. He could
stand before an admitted masterpiece and enjoy all its beauties, without
losing sight of any defect however small, and because his mind was
beautifully balanced, the small points of objection did not spoil his
appreciation of the whole work. They simply taught him what he should
avoid. In the very early days of his career, before he had left
Devonshire, he made the acquaintance of one Gandy, an artist of some
small repute, whose father, also a painter, had studied Van Dyck, and
had taught his son to appreciate the fine qualities of Rembrandt. The
younger Gandy afforded Reynolds his first glimpse of the world lying
beyond the reach of the rank and file of British students, gave him his
earliest appreciation of Rembrandt, and taught him to look for that
master's work when he visited Rome. As soon as Reynolds reached Italy,
he examined the great masters with a critical eye, and set himself to
copy Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Guido, Raphael, and many others. He soon
saw that each of these masters had achieved supreme success in some
department of their life's work, and he had the idea of uniting all the
excellences that he saw around him, and leaving the defects alone.
He sought for the colour of Rubens and Titian the drawing of Raphael,
the splendour of design of Michelangelo, and the chiaroscuro of
Rembrandt. Naturally this must sound ambitious enough; but we should
remember that Reynolds was far from standing alone in his ambitions.
Mengs, who did so much to proclaim the merits of Velazquez and achieved
a great but temporary success as a painter in Madrid before Goya's
wonderful gifts threw him into well-merited obscurity, had the same
ideals, but whereas the best of his accomplishments were but dull and
short-lived, Reynolds was able to force some way through all the gifts
with which he sought to surround himself and to reach a style of his
own. The journey lasted very many years, and the road is strewn with
failures, chiefly due to an inability to grasp the secret of a durable
glaze and, like many men who came before and after him, the painter had
to part company with some at least of his ambitions. Had his own
capacity for self-criticism been less, had he allowed his feeling for
fine colour to prevail over the sound judgment that bade him look for
other and more enduring excellencies, he would not occupy the place he
holds to-day, while on the other hand, if a Titian or a Rubens had been
able to give him the secret of manipulating pigments, he would have
stood side by side with the greatest masters of all time.

[Illustration: PLATE VIII.--DUCHESS OF DEVONSHIRE AND CHILD. (Chatsworth
House, Derbyshire)

This picture, to which reference has been made in the text, hangs at
Chatsworth, and has been reproduced by permission of His Grace the Duke
of Devonshire. Although Walpole sneered at it when he saw it for the
first time, the composition stands to-day among the most admired of the
master's works.]

Artists tell us that painting should be no more than a harmony of colour
and line, that it should not attempt to cross the borderline that
separates painting from literature. They are justified in their
attitude, but at the same time we cannot discuss painters in terms of
paint, or tell of our admiration of their work by expressing that
admiration on canvas. Those of us who are not painters, can only
approach art through literature, and seek to find in a man the
explanation of his works, and in the works, the revelation of the man.

Joshua Reynolds possessed a master mind. He had wonderful capacity for
synthesis and analysis, and something akin to the skilled physician's
gift of diagnosis. As soon as he had built up the foundations of his own
art and found a new method of presentation, he turned all his mental
capacity to the study of the people who sat for him. As soon as he had
achieved technique, the other gifts that no technique could develop came
into play, and then his work revealed its extraordinary qualities, side
by side with the few limitations that beset his mode of life. In
society, Reynolds would seem to have been courtly and reserved. He did
not expand to women as he did to men, for he looked upon women and
children as subjects for classical treatment. He made them extremely
beautiful; he gave them graces and gifts that flatter the imagination of
those who gaze upon his pictures to-day: but there are not too many
portraits of women among those painted by Reynolds in which there is a
large quality of humanity. He suppresses a great part of the human
interest that may have been in them, and replaces it with beauty of
colour and line. Now and again, of course, he is very fortunate. When he
painted the great courtesans of his day, Polly Fisher, Nelly O'Brien,
and others of that frail sisterhood, the qualities he omitted left the
sitters quite human. There was no suggestion of the classic about them.
A Nelly O'Brien at her best is just a woman, while some of the
high-born ladies at their best became a little too cold, a little too
stately, a little too well-posed for the wicked world they lived in.
Even when we consider the famous "Jumping Baby" that hangs at
Chatsworth, it is impossible to avoid the thought that if the little one
had really been so happy and so playful, the mother's fine feathers must
have been considerably ruffled, and she must have made haste to give the
child back to the nurse.

His children, too, are seldom of this world. Reynolds was a hardened old
bachelor with an eye for beauty. He had not studied Bellini and
Correggio for nothing, and many of his little ones are far more like
Italian angels in modern dress than English boys and girls. Of course
there are notable exceptions. "Master Crewe as Henry the Eighth" is
delightfully English. "The Strawberry Girl" is another picture painted
in hours of delightful inspiration, but "The Age of Innocence," for all
its supreme beauty, has a certain quality of conception that is
artificial. To look at Reynolds' women and children is to feel assured
that the painter lived a celibate life, and that the stories about
intrigues with Angelica Kaufmann and others are misleading and
unfounded. We have but to turn to the work of his great contemporaries,
Gainsborough and Romney, to see the difference between women in whose
veins the blood runs red, and women who feed on nectar and ambrosia and
were never seen at a disadvantage in their lives. It seems to the writer
that women and children were to Reynolds fit and proper subjects for the
exercise of his gifts, but at the same time, folk in whom he had no
abiding interest. Men interested him, and when he turned the best of his
attention to them, he gave the world work that will endure just as long
as the pigments he put down upon the canvas.

The picture of Admiral Keppel, hanging to-day in the National Portrait
Gallery, was the first ripe fruit of the painter's Italian journey, and
had produced in the world of art something akin to a sensation.
Thereafter Reynolds stood alone as the representative eighteenth-century
painter of great men. His rivals could not approach him there. He seemed
to see right into the heart and brain of the men who sat for him, to
realise clearly and judiciously the part they were playing in life, and
he strove to set it down in such a fashion that the character and
capacities of the sitter should impress themselves at once upon those
who saw the portrait. Other painters might give one aspect of a man,
but Reynolds' vision was far larger--it was completely comprehensive;
when he had dealt with a subject, it was well-nigh impossible to
approach it again, save in the way of imitation. There was a finality
about the treatment that must have baffled and exasperated his rivals.
The portraits of Charles James Fox, David Garrick, Laurence Sterne, to
name a few, are masterly in their simplicity, in the directness of their
appeal, and in the splendid expression of character through features. To
satisfy the claims of Reynolds' brush it was absolutely necessary that
his sitters should have character, even if it was a bad one. That is why
the portraits of courtesans arouse attention in fashion that women whose
characters were undeveloped either for good or for evil will never
succeed in doing.

It is not always easy to realise what Reynolds' work was like at its
best, because so many of his canvases have either lost their original
tints or have suffered the final indignity of restoration. In his search
after the secret of the Venetians he made many elaborate experiments at
the expense of his sitters, and pictures that were remarkable in their
year for colour that aroused the enthusiasm of connoisseurs grew old
even sooner than the sitters. His solid foundations decomposed, the
surface colour of many a celebrity is now as pale as the sitter's own
ghost may be supposed to be. Here there is perhaps some excuse for
looking at Reynolds' work from the literary standpoint, because though
the harmony of line may remain, the harmony of colour has gone beyond
recall, and there are some at least of Reynolds' pictures in which the
colour, had it been preserved, would have been the most effective
quality. At times the great artist's draughtsmanship was far removed
from excellence. And yet when criticism has said its last word, the name
and fame of Sir Joshua Reynolds will remain the pride of British art and
the admiration of the civilised world.


The plates are printed by BEMROSE DALZIEL, LTD., Watford

The text at the BALLANTYNE PRESS, Edinburgh





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