(b Plympton, Devon, July 16, 1723; d London, Feb 23, 1792).
English painter, collector and writer. The foremost portrait painter in England in the 18th century, he transformed early Georgian portraiture by greatly enlarging its range. His poses, frequently based on the Old Masters or antique sculpture, were intended to invoke classical values and to enhance the dignity of his sitters. His rich colour, strong lighting and free handling of paint greatly influenced the generation of Thomas Lawrence and Henry Raeburn. His history and fancy pictures explored dramatic and emotional themes that became increasingly popular with both artists and collectors in the Romantic period. As first president of the Royal Academy in London, he did more than anyone to raise the status of art and artists in Britain. His Discourses on Art, delivered to the students and members of the Academy between 1769 and 1790, are the most eloquent and widely respected body of art criticism by any English writer.
Although Reynolds’s father, a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and master of Plympton Grammar School, had intended that his son train as an apothecary, Joshua chose instead to seek fame as a painter. In ...