Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Margaret Scott by Lady Montgomery 1760c.

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-92)

Portrait of Margaret Scott by Lady Montgomery, Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
Collection of F.Dent Esq., London Sotheby''s, 15 November 1959, Lot.105. With Newhouse Galleries, New York Collection of Harold Zellerbach Esq. Given by him in 1970 in memory of his mother, Jennie, to California Palace of the Legion of Honour, San Francisco.
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During the first half of his career, from 1752-68, in pursuit of the secret of Venetian colouring, Reynolds experimented with his materials. His aim was to emulate the techniques of the old masters and enable his pictures to hang unobtrusively besides the works of the artists whom he so admired in the great houses and galleries of England. To acheive chiaroscuro or a greater contrast between light and dark, he used transparent glazes over monochrome underpainting and a reduced palette of blue-black, white, ocher and carmine . The last colour used for the flesh often faded soon after painting to a pale, near white tone. The result, when the painting is in good condition, such as this portrait of Lady Montgomery, achieves the effect admired by his fellow artist James Northcote: an atmosphere of light and shade ... together with a agueness that gives them a visionary and romantic character, and makes them seem to be dreams or vivid recollections of persons we have seen.

Sittings for a Lady Scott are recorded in Reynolds'' sitters book for February 1759 and it may be that these refer to Margaret Scott, later Lady Montgomery. She was the daughter and heiress of Robert Scott of Killearn, Stirlingshire and the wife of Sir James Montgomery (1721-1803). Sir James was Lord Advocate, M.P. for Peebles and Chief Baron of the Exchequer in Scotland 1775-81. He was also a skilled farmer and bought the estates of Stanhope and Stobo in Peebleshire, where his good methods of farming and improvements, notably the Peebles and Edinburgh road in 1770 earned him the title The Father of the County. He was succeeded in the title by Sir James, his second son, who also became Lord Advocate. His eldest son William, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the 43rd Foot, predeceased him.

Joshua Reynolds was born on 16 July 1723, the seventh of the eleven children of Rev. Samuel Reynolds (d.1745), schoolmaster of the village of Plympton in Devon. In October 1740, with Samuel''s encouragement and through the influence of a family friend the 17-year-old boy entered the studio of Thomas Hudson (1701-79), a fellow Devonian and the most fashionable portrait painter of his generation. Two and half years later Reynold''s left Hudson to set up on his own, working both in London and Devon.

A chance introduction through a friend gave Reynolds the opportunity to travel to Italy with Commodore Augustus Keppel on his ship the Centurion. He arrived in Rome in January 1750, where he was to remain for the next two years hungrily studying the entire spectrum of Italian art from antique sculpture to the old masters such as Raphael, Michelangelo, Corregio and Titian, whose impact and influence was to last throughout his illustrious career.

On his return to England in October 1752, Reynolds immediately put the lessons of antiquity and the High Renaissance into practice, bringing about his own renaissance in English portrait painting and establishing himself as the leading portrait painter in London. The graceful poses and powerful compositions of his portraits convey a sense of grandeur and moral gravity, which combined with a capacity to take himself as well as clients seriously, made him a painter of profound originality.

The period that followed, 1752 to 1768, from which this portrait of Margaret Scott, Lady Montgomery dates, is generally regarded as Reynolds'' golden age when his response to Italy was fresh and his aspirations towards the grand style were rapidly evolving. He soon attracted influential and affluent sitters such as the Duke of Devonshire who sat to him in 1753. His enormous success is also demonstrated by the 150 sitters who visited his studio in 1759 alone.

In 1760 he was able to purchase a house in Leicester Square, large enough to accommodate his studio and household. At this time he formed friendship with famous literary figures such as Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, James Boswell, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and David Garrick. In 1768 he was elected the first President of the Royal Academy of Arts and shortly afterwards was knighted by George III, the first native artist to be so honoured in England since Thornhill in 1692. In 1784 Reynolds succeeded Ramsay as Principal Painter to the King. Both in the Academy''s annual Discourses and by what he exhibited, Reynolds tried to raise the status of artists in British society and to see themselves as successors to the great European masters.
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