Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of the Rev John Hockin M.A., J.P. (c.1709-1778) 1745c.

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-92)

Portrait of the Rev John Hockin M.A., J.P. (c.1709-1778), Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA
Oil on unlined canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76 x 63.5 cm
To view portraits by Joshua Reynolds for sale, please go to www.philipmould.com.

This portrait, which is datable to c.1745, is not only unlined but also retains its original stretcher. This outstanding condition is almost unique for an artist whose work has suffered and deteriorated more than any other of the period (1). Virtually the only blemish on the paint surface is a small abrasion in the upper left background.

It is also one of only a handful of works that have been identified as pre-dating his trip to Italy. In these pictures he reveals the ambition that was to drive him to his status as arguably the greatest painter of the eighteenth-century. Absorbing hungrily, through careful study, the techniques and accomplishments of the old masters, he attempts even at this early stage to paint portraits that elevate the sitter as well as the art of portrait painting.

Furthermore, the re-emergence of this portrait of the Reverend John Hockin (c.1709-78) reveals new information about Reynolds'' patronage and work in his native Devon at this early stage of his career. The sitter, the son of Thomas Hockin of Cambourne, Cornwall was admitted, aged 19, as a sizar at Pembroke College, Cambridge on 19 April 1728. He became Bachelor of Arts in 1731/2 and a Master of Arts in 1737. He was Vicar of Okehampton, Devon in 1744, a post he held until his death in 1778 and was also Rector of Lydford 1749-70.

He married Elizabeth, daughter of Rev. J.Pearce of St.Earth. His son, Thomas Pearce Hockin (d.1789) succeeded his father as Rector of Lydford in 1770 and also as Vicar of Okehampton. The Rev. John Hockin was author of ''Sermon'' and had a grant of arms in 1764. He died at Caduscot, Cornwall and was buried at St.Pinnock.

Significantly, Okehampton and Lydford are only about thirty miles from Plymouth, where the young Reynolds is known to have established a studio and begun painting portraits in 1744(2). Hockin was also Chaplain to George, 1st Lord Lyttleton (1709-73) who was Member of Parliament for Okehampton, 1735-56. Lyttleton himself was painted by Reynolds in 1756(3).

Born in 1723 at Plympton in Devon, a small town near the important naval port of Plymouth, Joshua Reynolds was the son of the Rev. Samuel Reynolds, master of the Free Grammar School at Plympton. In October 1740, when Joshua was almost eighteen years of age, he travelled to London where he was apprenticed to the portrait painter Thomas Hudson. He remained with Hudson, who significantly was also a native of Devonshire, until the summer of 1743, a year before his four-year contract expired. By January 1744 Reynolds had left London and established himself as a portrait painter in Plymouth Dock (now Devonport). After his father''s death at the end of 1745, he shared a house in Plymouth with his unmarried sisters where he was mainly based until his trip to Italy at the end of 1749.

Other sitters that have been identified from Reynolds'' period of work in Devon were also drawn from prominent West Country families, the professional classes and naval officers in Plymouth. These included Miss Grace Goddard, later Mrs John Culme who was the daughter of the Rev. Philip Goddard of Plympton;(4) Richard Eliot, who was M.P. for St Germans and Liskeard in Cornwall;(5) and Richard, 1st Baron Edgcumbe of Mount Edgcumbe, Devon(6).

The exceptional condition of the portrait means that perhaps for the first time it is possible to examine in detail the techniques that the artist employed at this critical moment in his career. The way he uses small brushstrokes of paint to animate areas of the face such as the eye-lashes and the forehead is clearly revealed. An early interest in chiaroscuro, or contrasting lights and darks can be seen in the strong frontal lighting on the sitter''s face, reflecting the time he spent studying and copying Hudson''s collection of paintings, prints and drawings by Rembrandt(7).

The sitter is set in the lower half of a feigned oval. This device, which was popular in British portraits of the 1740''s, is used to push the sitter back into the picture space. This depth is further achieved by the strong vertical shadow to the left hand side of the background. The realistic and sharply modelled figure is far more advanced than the blander face-masks produced by his master, Hudson. As such it represents, along with the Self-portrait aged about twenty-three of c.1746,(8) the emergence of a brilliantly precocious and personal style.

(1) See: M. Kirby Taller, Jr. ''All Good Pictures Crack - Sir Joshua Reynolds''s practice and studip'', in Reynolds, R.A., exh. cat., 1986, pp. 55-70.

(2) Ed. Nicholas Penny, Reynolds, Royal Academy exh. cat., 1986, p.18.
(3) Ellis K. Waterhouse, Reynolds, 1941, p.41. This portrait which was formerly at Hagley Hall was destroyed by fire.
(4) Op.cit., note 2, No. 1, pp. 163 -4.
(5) Ibid., note 2, No. 2, pp. 164 -5.
(6) Op. cit., note 3, p. 37, plate 5.
(7) Jacob Simon & Ellen Miles, Thomas Hudson 1701 - 1779, exh. cat., Kenwood, 1979, Nos. 67, 74 & 75.
(8) David Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds: The Self Portraits, exh. cat. Plymouth City Museums and Art Gallery, 1992, No.2, p.12.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.