Over the last decade at least, ever since he was involved in the organisation of Tate Britain’s exhibition ‘Joshua Reynolds: The Creation of Celebrity’ in 2005, Mark Hallett, the recently appointed director of studies at the Paul Mellon Centre, has been working on a new study of Reynolds’s paintings. It has now been handsomely published by Yale University Press and is a major and deeply serious work, informed by all the latest scholarship in the field of 18th-century studies.
In what ways does it advance our knowledge and understanding of Rey-nolds? Its first great strength is in paying attention to, and contributing to, the work that has been done on 18th-century Royal Academy exhibitions. From the moment that the Society of Artists (the body representing artists before the creation