Joshua Reynolds needs no introduction. He served as the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, was knighted by George III, and has over 1000 of his portraits in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. His Seven Discourses on Art, a series of lectures delivered to students at the Royal Academy between 1769 and 1790, explored the theory of art and the Enlightenment and served as a foundation of artistic principles in England for future generations of artists.
Reynolds is considered a master of depicting children in portraits with his ability to capture a child’s innocence and grace, including this portrait shown above of Georgian Augusta Frederica Elliott, later Lady Charles Bentinck. His best known portrait of a child is entitled The Age of Innocence that is currently at the Tate gallery. The identity of the young girl in the painting is not known, but it captured the public’s imagination with more than 323 full-scale copies made in oil in the 19th century.
Today we are looking at a study for a portrait of a young boy painted by Reynolds. This charming portrait done in oil on paper appears to be a study for the head of Reynold’s portrait of Lord George Seymour Conway as a boy, painted in 1770. Lord George Seymour was a British politician who was part of the Seymour family, headed by the Duke of Somerset. In the full scale painting by Reynolds, Seymour is shown in a Van Dyck dress with the characteristic full cheeks and parted lips. The painting was later made into a mezzotint by Edward Fisher, currently in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.
Reynolds has been the subject of several prominent exhibitions, including Experiments in Paint at the Wallace Collection in 2015 and Joshua Reynolds: The Creation of Celebrity in 2005. Reynolds has been in the news again recently as his Portrait of Omai, painted in 1776, is part of the Rijksmuseum’s forthcoming exhibition High Society alongside paintings by Rembrandt, Manet, Gainsborough, Velázquez, among others. The exhibition runs from March 8 to June 3.