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May 2015

Vol. 157 / No. 1346

Reynolds’s portraits

By Duncan Robinson

by Duncan Robinson

‘He was the first Englishman who added the praise of the ­elegant arts to the other glories of his country. In taste, in grace, in facility, in happy invention, and in the richness and harmony of colouring, he was equal to the great masters of the renowned ages. In portrait he went beyond them [. . .]. He possessed the theory as perfectly as the practice of his art. To be such a painter, he was a profound and penetrating philosopher’. These are among the words which Edmund Burke wrote, within hours of Reynolds’s death on 23rd February 1792, in what must have been one of the most spontaneous of all obituaries. Mark ­Hallett’s book,1 which results from more than ten years of careful consideration, exonerates Burke more than two hundred years later from any charge of hasty hyperbole or exaggeration. ­Portraiture in Action is a superbly crafted study of the man who set out to become ‘no ordinary painter’.

Hallett begins his compelling narrative with Reynolds in mid-career, with a detailed consideration of the twelve portraits the President submitted to the Royal Academy’s annual exhibition in 1774. Here we are introduced to many of the major themes of the book; Reynolds’s intelligent and often witty recourse to the art of the past, his finely tuned sensitivity to changes in contemporary attitudes towards, for instance, displays of affection between parents and children, his readiness to use his talents to promote the interests of his sitters even when doing so courted controversy and, above all, his superb sense of orchestration in selecting work for public exhibition, choosing a variety of ­portraits of men and women, from formal full-lengths to intimate close-ups of personal friends, which ‘would interact well with each other within the exhibition space’. Hallett completes his introduction with an outline of the book, explaining that his treatment will be broadly chronological, that he will combine his debt to recent scholarship with a respect for the ‘critical language that Reynolds and his portraits generated in their own time’, and that he will, as he has already shown in the opening pages, ‘spend a good deal of time offering close readings of Reynolds’s portraits’.

The text which follows is arranged in six parts, each comprising two chapters. The first chapter is written with the general reader in mind; it provides a succinct introduction to the art world which the seventeen-year-old Reynolds entered when he left his native Devon for London to join Thomas Hudson’s studio as an apprentice in 1740. The social geography of the city is neatly delineated along with the growing sense of community among artists who gathered in coffee houses and combined in academies to advance their profession. Hudson’s success as a portrait painter, boosted by the retirement of his master, Jonathan Richardson, is examined in some detail, in part to introduce Reynolds as the student of both men, of Hudson’s ‘gracefully disposed’ sitters (Vertue) and Richardson’s Essay on the Theory of Painting. The second chapter treats the ten years 1743–53 when Reynolds was ‘on the road’, in the sense that he was away from London for most of the time. Although Hallett argues that from his part-time lodgings in St Martin’s Lane Reynolds would have been well aware of the important developments taking place at Vauxhall Gardens and the Foundling Hospital, it is hard to avoid the conjecture that an ambitious young artist would have felt marginalised by comparison with some of his near-contemporaries who were involved in them: Ramsay, Wilson and Gainsborough, for instance. By contrast, for all its playful variations on the ­fashionable theme of the conversation piece and its respectful, sidelong glance at Van Dyck’s Pembroke family at Wilton, Reynolds’s Eliot family of 1746 (cat. no.43) remains decidedly provincial. On the other hand, as the juxtaposed illustrations show, his portrait of Captain the Honourable George Edgcumbe of 1748 (no.51) holds its own beside Hudson’s Admiral John Byng (National Maritime Museum, London) of the following year, and more remarkably, his Self-portrait of 1747–49 (no.55) breaks entirely new ground in eighteenth-century British painting ‘because it self-consciously stages a new kind of dialogue between self-promotion and introspection [. . .] between the ­different psychological meanings that can be introduced into a portrait by the interplay of light and shadow’. Having already established Reynolds’s debt to Rembrandt in his candlelit painting of A boy reading of 1746–47 (no.53), Hallett makes the telling comparison here with Rembrandt’s self-portraits, and illustrates one in particular, an etching of c.1629 in which the shadow falls similarly across the artist’s face. This would not be the last time, of course, that Reynolds referred himself to Rembrandt; he did so most famously in the magisterial self-portrait (no.332) he painted for the Royal Academy shortly before its move in 1780 to Somerset House, where it was hung, along with portraits of the royal founder and his consort also by Reynolds, in the Council Room. This striking image, in which the artist depicted himself in academic dress, without reference to any other title or honours, contemplating, like Rembrandt’s Aristotle, a bust, in his case one of Michelangelo, is reproduced here as a full-page colour illustration, yet receives surprisingly scant attention in the text considering the author’s avowal, borrowing a phrase from Otto Pächt, of ‘empathetic absorption’ into his subjects. He does, however, continue to remind his readers of Reynolds’s abiding interest in Rembrandt. Perhaps one of the most striking instances is the portrait he painted of his studio assistant Giuseppe Marchi in 1753 (no.83) immediately upon his return to England from Italy, at a point in his career when one might least expect a ­pictorial tribute to the Dutch artist, but as Hallett reminds us, the affinity was seen at once by Northcote, who described the picture as ‘the head of a boy in a Turkish turban, richly painted, somewhat in the style of Rembrandt’.

Before discussing the works Reynolds produced during his Italian stay, Hallett once again provides a helpful introduction to the phenomenon of the Grand Tour and the less grand artistic corollary to it, increasingly seen in the middle of the eighteenth century as a sine qua non for an aspiring painter, sculptor or architect. Instead of dismissing as juvenilia the satires Reynolds painted of the young English aristocrats he encountered on his travels, Hallett rightly associates them with what he describes as ‘an important and innovative strand of Grand Tour visual culture’, one associated in particular with the Italian caricaturist Pier Leone Ghezzi. Although Reynolds fairly quickly abandoned these amusing, back-handed compliments to his would-be patrons, for his fellow-artist and flatmate in Rome, Thomas Patch, they became a lucrative stock in trade. My only quibble is that it is hard to divorce Reynolds’s Parody on the School of Athens (no.66), with its obvious assault upon bad taste, from the views he expressed a few years later in his letters to The Idler in which he castigated ‘those who are resolved to be critics in spite of nature, and at the same time have no great disposition to much reading and study, [whom] I would recommend [. . .] to assume the character of connoisseur’. If Hallett’s own portrayal of Reynolds has a fault, it errs on the side of generosity, describing him as ‘the famously placid individual who, in reality, never seems to have raised even his paintbrush in anger’. His pen was a different matter. Of David Garrick, a friend with whom he may well have identified in his portrayal of Mr Garrick, between the two muses of Tragedy and Comedy (no.128; 1760–61; Fig.52) as he faced his own cross-roads as a painter in 1761, he could write that ‘the man is not likely to be the last who discovers his own excellence. Garrick knew it and made himself a slave of his reputation’.

The Italian chapter is distinguished above all by a detailed study of Reynolds’s 1752 sketchbook, now in the British Museum. It identifies not only his artistic sources, but also the lessons he learned from them in terms of both composition and chiaroscuro. It ends with a brief consideration of his portrait of his close friend, the sculptor Joseph Wilton (no.82), ‘the only non-caricatural portrait the artist produced of anyone other than himself during his time in Italy’. That comment begs the question, why? Was it the lack of opportunity in a crowded market where the studious pupil of Hudson was seen as no match for the rising star of Pompeo Batoni? Failing which, it is tempting to speculate that Reynolds was aware of the portrait that another young ­aspirant, Anton Mengs, was painting at the same time of his ­compatriot Richard Wilson, whose acceptance as an artist in Rome may well have been more secure than his own at the point when the two of them are said to have exchanged vows of friendship before the statue of Marcus Aurelius. If, in the author’s words, ‘Reynolds’s portrait glamorised both the accomplishments and the sensitivities of the expatriate artistic community to which he and Wilton temporarily belonged’, it also perhaps demonstrated the competitiveness of the unordinary painter. At the time it succeeded (Farington noted that it was ‘much admired’) and here it serves as a bridge between Italy and ­England, with Reynolds, newly returned, urging his friend to follow him ‘to begin a reputation in London’.

Part two concentrates on Reynolds’s adeptness at establishing that reputation. Unlike his portrait of Marchi, which enjoyed a mixed reception among his fellow artists, the full-length of Commodore Augustus Keppel (no.86; 1752–53; Fig.53) was an unqualified success, one which placed Reynolds on a par with Allan Ramsay as a master of the new ‘heroic’ portrait. Hallett ­follows David Solkin in finding allusions to both ancient virtue and modern heroism in the strikingly similar poses which both artists derived from classical statuary. It might also be worth ­noting that both Ramsay and Reynolds were keenly aware of the reanimation of the aristocratic portrait which was taking place in Batoni’s fashionable Roman studio. That stated, Hallett presents an extended and original reading of one of Reynolds’s best-known images. He then turns to the commissions Reynolds received from 1753 onwards and stresses quite rightly the ‘historick air’ of the resulting portraits, derived not as much from the studies in his Italian sketchbooks as from ‘a systematic engagement with the poses, gestures and sartorial details found in Van Dyck’s ­portraiture’. From these distinctly theatrical performances he then proceeds to consider the more thoughtful and introspective portraits Reynolds produced in the same years as evidence of his growing confidence in his choice and treatment of his sitters; the fastidious Horace Walpole and the infamous Kitty Fisher, for instance, whose reputation as a courtesan lay ‘outside the conventional parameters of fame and social status’. Apart from the temptation to court controversy and to achieve a succès de scandale, it might be worth reflecting on the fact that the painting of Kitty Fisher as Cleopatra dissolving the pearl, painted in 1759 (no.115; Fig.54), could be seen as a statement of solidarity with Hogarth after the rejection of his Sigismunda in the same year. Hallett ends the chapter by citing The Idler articles in which Reynolds staked out his claim as a theorist who was prepared to engage with the issues raised by Jonathan Richardson the Elder, rehearsed by Hogarth and rebutted by Ramsay, with one principal aim in sight: to defend ‘the modern painter’s status as an educated ­practitioner of a liberal art’.

Chapter four, ‘Celebrity and Exhibition’, opens with a vignette of Reynolds in his studio on 21st April 1760, his sitter’s book filled with back-to-back appointments as he crafted his own celebrity alongside that of his clients. With impeccable timing he painted Laurence Sterne (no.124) when he was the talk of the town and, shortly afterwards, embarked upon his portrait of ­Garrick (Fig.52), a task made harder by the existence of one of Hogarth’s most successful double-portraits, a witty and sparkling image of intimacy between the actor manager and his young wife (Royal Collection). Reynolds must have felt obliged to take a different course, one in which, if Walpole is to be trusted, ‘the thought (was) taken by Garrick from the judgment of Hercules’. Here too Hallett excavates the layers of meaning in this most ambitious and spectacularly successful image of Garrick flirting again, this time with his own allegorised reputation. From the rest of the chapter Reynolds emerges as a skilful exhibitor within the increasingly public arena of artists’ societies, choosing carefully to ensure that he would be seen moving with ease and confidence ‘from the imagery of martial heroism to that of ­aristocratic femininity,’ and at the same time keeping a watchful eye on the competition. There is a telling comparison here between his Lady Elizabeth Keppel of 1757–59 (no.142) and Ramsay’s Lady Mary Coke of 1758 (private collection).

Part three pursues the distinction between ‘The Faces of War’, on the one hand, and ‘Painting the Graces’, on the other. Both chapters are informed by new research and telling insights into the images that Reynolds chose to exhibit. The discussion of Captain Robert Orme (no.155) is a case in point; details of the ­disastrous Battle of Monongahela, in which Orme was wounded the year before his portrait was painted, enable Hallett to offer an interpretation of the picture as ‘a stirring testament to military heroism, on the one hand, and a worrying chronicle of ineptitude, indiscipline, barbarity and failure, on the other’. Persuasive as the argument is in this case, I am less convinced by the ­supposed contrast between the portraits of John, 1st Earl Ligonier painted in 1755–56 and 1760 respectively (nos.158 and 159). ­Hallett suggests that the first of these reflects ‘a more brooding and meditative mode of portrayal appropriate to the moment of national crisis (in which) it was produced’, whereas the second is ‘boldly expressive of Britain’s towering military confidence in 1761’. Comparing the two images it is clear that Reynolds based Ligonier’s head in the second portrait on that in the first, a point reinforced by David Mannings’s observation that the artist appears to have needed only one timed sitting to complete his equestrian version. Moving on to the later military portraits of John Manners, Marquis of Granby and Sir Jeffrey Amherst (nos.167 and 168; Fig.55), both shown at the Society of Artists exhibition of 1766, Hallett associates both with ‘narratives of sympathy and charity as well as those of battle, bravery and leadership’. It remains an extraordinary fact that Granby commissioned his ­portrait as a gift for the Mareschal duc de Broglie whom he had defeated at Vellinghausen, and both he and Amherst enjoyed their fair share of adulation. However, there is evidence to ­suggest that by 1765 Amherst’s reputation was tarnished by his failure to anticipate the seriousness of Native American unrest which had led to the Pontiac War of 1763, as well as the accusation that he was involved in an attempt to infect the Indians threatening Fort Pitt with smallpox by supplying them with infected blankets. Could it be that he needed the sympathetic image that Reynolds supplied to reinforce his claims to benevolence just as much as Kitty Fisher, Nellie O’Brien or Lady Waldegrave, all famous beauties who for different reasons craved social acceptance, and required the help of the painter’s brush?

In ‘Painting the Graces’ Hallett considers the way in which Reynolds was able to exploit the marriage of George III and Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1761, not as he might have hoped, by developing the small oil-sketch he painted of the ceremony in the Chapel Royal, but by producing two heavily loaded allegorical portraits of two of the royal bridesmaids. Lady Elizabeth Keppel, wearing the dress she had worn at the wedding, appears adorning a herm of Hymen, while Lady Sarah Lennox is shown sacrificing to the Graces (nos.181 and 189). Once again Hallett revels in the layers of meaning and in the wide range of visual sources on which Reynolds drew for these supremely exhibitable pictures before turning to Mrs Hale as ‘Euphrosyne’, painted in 1762–64 and exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1766 (no.192). Here he virtually teases his readers with the potential conflict of meanings embedded in this balletic image of impending matrimony, from the ‘wanton wiles’ of ­Milton’s L’Allegro to the more sober virtues of Il Penseroso.

In part four Hallett outlines the steps which led to the foundation of the Royal Academy in 1768. In the account he gives Reynolds appears to have been uncharacteristically passive during the preparatory negotiations. There is no mention of what could well have been a carefully planned absence from the capital when he visited Paris in September and October of that year, immediately before returning to London to await the call to take the lead from his fellow artists. What is clear, however, spelled out in a series of characteristically thorough analyses of individual works of art, is that ‘the submissions that Reynolds made to the early displays [. . .] not only sought to promote his own, expanding ambitions as a painter, but also articulated what can be described as an academic agenda for modern British art’. Among them, his allegorising female portraits played a particularly important role in displaying both the artist’s intellect and his sensibility. Hallett highlights the double-portrait of Mrs Harriet Bouverie and Mrs Frances Crewe (mezzotint, no.206) from the Academy’s inaugural exhibition as a good example, with its melancholy beauties ­musing over a tomb inscribed Et in Arcadia Ego. Significantly, he reproduces the mezzotint after what he refers to as ‘his now ­battered picture’, a reminder that many of Reynolds’s surviving works have deteriorated largely because of the fugitive pigments he used. It is all too apparent when one compares the delicate modelling in the mezzotints (by James McArdell especially) with the now-faded flesh tones in the canvases they reproduce. This makes it all the harder to draw conclusions from complexions and facial expressions in the painted images; from Cornet ­Winter’s ‘lily-white face’ or ‘the pictorially uneventful square of bared skin’ on Kitty Fisher’s chest, for instance.

As Hallett points out, Reynolds was not alone in what one contemporary described as ‘confounding portrait & History painting together’ in his exhibited works, but he was certainly
a leading contributor to what is described here as ‘a collective academic project’. Zoffany’s famous group portrait of the Royal Academicians (Royal Collection) is reproduced to illustrate ‘the new president’s qualities as a fraternal and learned artist’, although it might be questioned as to whether he is shown ‘in animated discussion [. . .] about an aspect of the visual arts’, given the identities of his immediate companions: the Academy’s Treasurer, William Chambers, in the centre and the Secretary, Francis Newton, on the left. Surely Zoffany is here alluding to the power structure within the Academy, and the part Chambers had played in gaining the royal assent. As Farington commented years later, ‘Sir William Chambers in many respects had too much considered himself and had assumed improperly, great power [. . .] Sir Joshua had felt it and had told him in the Council, that though He was President Sir Wm was Vice-roy over him’. It has to be admitted that, while Reynolds was prepared to engage in the politics of the Academy in order to promote his own status and that of his fellow-artists, he sought conviviality and intellectual stimulation elsewhere, among his literary friends.

This brings us neatly to ‘the Streatham worthies’, the first chapter of part five. In this Hallett examines in detail the series of thirteen portraits Reynolds painted for Henry and Hester Thrale between 1772 and 1781 to hang in the library they added to their country villa on the outskirts of London in Streatham Park. He sees the Thrales, with Reynolds’s connivance, subscribing to a well-established tradition of portraiture in country house libraries, a tradition with which the upwardly mobile brewer and his bluestocking wife were only too keen to identify. Thanks to their lavish hospitality and ‘strategic patronage’, their houses in Southwark and Streatham became extensions of the ­literary club which Johnson and Reynolds established in 1764, ‘promoting [the Thrales’s] own household as a thriving and lively hub of metropolitan cultural and conversational exchange’. A diagrammatic reconstruction of the library walls shows off
the distinction of their friends and guests and points to one important difference from the membership of the club; the seated figures of Hester Thrale and her daughter, painted full-length to hang above the fireplace, preside over the assembled literati. From this commemoration of intellectual friendship, which was dispersed by the former Mrs Thrale when she fell on hard times, Hallett turns to the very different commission Reynolds received in 1777 ‘to paint the whole Marlborough family in one Picture’, and to do so as the latest addition to the succession of large-scale dynastic portraits in Blenheim Palace. Long recognised as one of Reynolds’s masterpieces (no.300), it comes as something of a ­surprise to discover that it received a mixed press when it was first exhibited. Here, however, it receives its full due in yet another brilliant exposition of art in context. Unlike his martial forbear, the 4th Duke was an acknowledged connoisseur, and Hallett explores every detail of his appearance in the portrait to show how it ‘overlays the imagery of military and political authority’ associated with Blenheim ‘with the signs of aesthetic discernment and aristocratic learning’. In discussing the genesis of the ­composition he points to the preparatory oil sketch, now in the Tate, to show that the final prominence given to the Duchess in the finished picture was a relatively late development. This he sees as further evidence of the ‘softer virtues’ which the painter and his patron wished to emphasise, although it is tempting to add that both of them were aware of the pictorial record at Blenheim which celebrated both the centrality and the forceful character of successive Marlborough brides, from the indomitable 1st Duchess onwards. Is there not just a hint of amusement in the way Reynolds raised his subject’s fashionably coiffured head to fill the triumphal arch which she alone occupies?

The sixth and final part of the book begins with the move of the Royal Academy to Somerset House in 1780. Although in the following decade Reynolds came to dominate the annual exhibitions in the Great Room, Hallett points out that in one ­important regard he lagged behind his competitors. Both Benjamin West and Thomas Gainsborough found favour with the king, as their submissions to the first four Somerset House ­displays show. Gainsborough’s elegant full-lengths of George III and Queen Charlotte (Royal Collection), which were exhibited in 1781, must have completely upstaged the stiffly ceremonial pair of royal portraits Reynolds had painted and installed in the Academy’s Council Room the year before, and in 1783 Gainsborough’s assemblage of fifteen separate canvases depicting bust-length portraits of the king, the queen and each of their children (Royal Collection) simply reinforced his favoured ­status at court. Reynolds’s riposte was two-fold. First, he countered by exhibiting mythological subjects; thus Richard Cosway’s full-length of the Duchess of Cumberland (whereabouts unknown), which occupied the centre of the west wall in 1781, was flanked on either side by his own Thais (no.335) and Fuseli’s Death of Dido (Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection). Secondly, Reynolds attached his colours to the heir apparent, the flamboyant Prince George, whose Whig sympathies were at odds with his father’s political views but in line with those of the painter. As a result, in Hallett’s words, ‘at Somerset House Reynolds’s royal portraiture became embroiled in intense, sometimes toxic debates about courtly identity, behaviour and display’. The risk on Reynolds’s part was calculated. To cast the profligate prince in the role of ­England’s patron saint with Rubensian confidence (renewed by a visit to Flanders in 1781) was bound to attract attention, but not necessarily favourably. Reading the extracts from the press coverage of the exhibitions of 1784 and 1787 reproduced here, it is clear that the artistic judgment of the critics was conditioned by their politics. While paying lip service to Reynolds’s pre-eminence as a painter, they found fault with his execution, driven by the ‘impulse of haste and need’, with the pose of the figure, ‘too short and the delineation of the limbs ungraceful’, and lampooned the composition of ‘that picture with the pretty black boy buckling that fine gay French gentleman’s sword on’. To our eyes George IV when Prince of Wales with a black servant (no.355) may seem to be a tour de force of majestic portraiture, but for their contemporaries there was little that Reynolds could do to turn the tide of popularity in the Prince’s favour.

More happily, in the final chapter Hallett moves on from royal portraits to rehearse Reynolds’s successes on the walls of Somerset House. In particular he highlights, as a counterpoint to the succession of male sitters Reynolds exhibited, his dazzling array of women: aristocrats, actresses, affectionate mothers and adoring children. While other artists followed his earlier lead in representing their sitters as classical goddesses, he provocatively chose contemporary dress. One of the best examples is his response to Ozias Humphrey, who exhibited Ladies Horatia and Maria Waldegrave in the guises of Venus and Juno in 1780 (private collection). Reynolds replied first by contriving to show in the same exhibition, either by accident or design, the picture he painted c.1776 of Dorothy, Lady Worsley (no.366) in a bright red riding-habit and a black feathered hat. As Ellis Waterhouse commented many years ago, with this portrait Reynolds ‘suddenly makes his goddesses come down to earth’. Then in 1781 he submitted his own version of The Ladies Waldegrave, featuring all three of the celebrated sisters seated around a work table in what constitutes ‘a monumental idealisation of female fashion and accomplishment’ (no.371). Small wonder that Gainsborough famously exclaimed, ‘Damn him, how various he is’, and despite his mauling over the Prince of Wales, he remained unashamedly controversial. Both men painted the actress Mary Robinson in 1782, shortly after her affair with the Prince and when she was known to have transferred her affections to one of his associates, a dashing young colonel, Banastre Tarleton. Both were expected to submit their efforts to public scrutiny, but Gainsborough blinked; according to Hallett, he may have hesitated to show her in the company of two other portraits he sent in that year, of the Prince of Wales and Tarleton respectively (The Rothschild Collection, Waddeson; whereabouts unknown). That left the stage to Reynolds and the powerfully seductive image of the actress (no.378), deferring cleverly to Rubens and exhibited together with his portrait of, who else? Tarleton, of course (no.345). I believe it was Waterhouse who first compared the extraordinarily animated portrait of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire with her infant daughter (no.398) of 1786 with the picture of her as a child with her mother which Reynolds had painted twenty-five years earlier (not in catalogue). ‘Both are, in a sense, intimate pictures of a mother and child’, he wrote in 1953. ‘But the serenity of the earlier picture, which owes allegiance to the Italian masters of the High Renaissance, has given way to a lively and dramatic style akin to Rubens’s baroque’. He went on to suggest that it was from these late works by Reynolds that John Hoppner and Thomas Lawrence derived their style. It is fitting, then, that Hallett ends his account of Reynolds’s portraits by ­juxtaposing Elizabeth Billington in the character of St Cecilia (no.425), which was among the pictures Reynolds sent to his last exhibition, with another theatrical full-length submitted in 1790, Miss Elizabeth Farren, by ‘the future Sir Joshua of the English School’ as Lawrence was hailed at the time (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

It must be clear from the frequent quotations in this review that Hallett’s prose matches his scholarship in precision and ­elegance. The book is handsomely produced and lavishly illustrated, matching the high standards we have come to expect from Yale University Press. There are one or two slips of the kind reviewers are meant to pounce on (the spelling of ­‘Albemarle’ appears in three variants) but they are far too trivial to detract from the pleasure of reading the text. This is also a ­generous book, dedicated to David Mannings as the doyen of Reynolds scholars and David Solkin as both teacher and friend. The author goes on to acknowledge debts to many others, including Nicholas Penny for the Reynolds exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1986, and Martin Postle, with whom he worked on the Tate exhibition in 2005. While Hallett draws on the work of these and other earlier contributors to the literature, he approaches the subject of Reynolds’s portraits with freshness and originality. The book’s limitations are self-imposed; there is a telling quotation in the Introduction from one of Reynolds’s patrons, complaining of an unfinished canvas which ‘like all others, that he does not think worthy of a place in the Exhibition, lay by and stood no chance of being finished’. By concentrating on those works the painter did ‘think worthy’, estimated by Waterhouse somewhat uncharitably as ‘hardly less than a hundred paintings which one would like to take into consideration, either for their success, their originality, or their influence’, Hallett does not attempt to inflate the importance of the entire output of this prolific studio. He does, however, do full justice to the artist who believed that ‘there is an art of animating and dignifying figures with intellectual grandeur, of impressing the appearance of philosophic wisdom, or heroic virtue. This can only be acquired by him that enlarges the sphere of his understanding by a variety of knowledge, and warms his imagination with the best productions of antient [sic] and modern poetry’ (Discourses, III, 1770).

1     M. Hallett: Reynolds. Portraiture in Action. 464 pp. incl. 350 col. + 10 b. & w. ills. (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2014), £50. ISBN 978–0–300–19697–9.