Joshua Reynolds: The Life and Times of the First President of the Royal Academy by Ian McIntyre - review by Charles Saumarez Smith

Charles Saumarez Smith

The Artist’s Artist

Joshua Reynolds: The Life and Times of the First President of the Royal Academy


Allen Lane The Penguin Press 624pp £30 order from our bookshop

Not long after I was appointed Director of the National Portrait Gallery, I was asked by Stuart Proffitt, the assiduous, ginger-headed publisher who fell out with Rupert Murdoch, if I would consider writing a life of Sir Joshua Reynolds, who, he felt, was richly deserving of a proper modern biography that would study not only his art but also his character, connections and friendships. I would have loved to, given the extent to which Reynolds's portraits, so strikingly diverse in composition, had imprinted themselves on the -public consciousness of the third quarter of the eighteenth century: his heroic naval portraits (like his early, great portrait of Augustus Keppel in the National Maritime Museum). the earnest literary portraits bet hose of Johnson', Goldsmith and Sterne in the National Portrait Gallery), and Reynolds: keen to some of his portraits of women (including the wonderful portrait of the Countess of Albemarle in the National Gallery), which convey a sense of character and self-confidence.

However, knowing the huge wealth of manuscript documentation and the extent to which Reynolds's life intersects with those of some of the key individuals of his period, including Johnson, Garrick, Goldsmith and Burke, I concluded, with regret, that I would not

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