Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of the Hon. Mrs John Barrington (pre1738-post1764) 1760c.

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-92)

Portrait of the Hon. Mrs John Barrington (pre1738-post1764), Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
Private Collection
David Mannings Sir Joshua Reynolds A Complete Catalogue of his Work Yale 2000. Text volume p.75 no.119; Plates volume fig.311 Power and Beauty Historical Portraits Ltd., London 12th - 22nd June 2001. p31 (ill.)
Power and Beauty Historical Portraits Ltd., London 12th - 22nd June 2001. no.14
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By the date of this portrait Reynolds was already established as one of the best practitioners of female portraiture in London. He enjoyed an excellent pedigree as a pupil from 1740-1743 of Thomas Hudson, although even his early works display a vigorous and independent technique. For two years from 1750 to 1752 Reynolds was in Italy, principally in Rome, and the legacy of this trip is apparent in all of his subsequent works. Throughout his career Reynolds was concerned with the theoretical and historical aspects of his craft, and with elevating the genre of portraiture by importing the techniques of the Italian masters. Reynolds succeeded in this as much as he also helped to raise the status of the portrait painter. He was a founder-member and first President of the Royal Academy in 1768, and in the following year was knighted by George III. His achievements in this role lies not least in the fifteen Discourses, which he delivered to students between 1769 and 1790 which encapsulate his opinions on the theory and practice of art. Fascinating reading in themselves the Discourses helped to dignify the fledgling Academy, and to endow it with an explicit intellectual purpose, which had been lacking in Kneller''s Academy or in that at St Martin''s Lane.

The qualities that made Reynolds such an admired portraitist in the 1750s are apparent in this painting. With female sitters such as this he is able to suggest a mood of intimacy and reflection, which lets the viewer feels that they have been allowed a privileged glimpse of private character. The cool, purple draperies are animated by a broad and vigorous brushwork, whilst the pale skin and Grecian profile of the sitter combine with the timeless costume, to recall the classical statuary that by this date was an essential element of the patron''s as well as the artist''s cultural vocabulary.
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