Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Walter Kendall (1689-1744) 1744

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-92)

Walter Kendall (1689-1744), Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA
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Oil on canvas
18th Century
30x25 inches 76 x 63.5cm
 
Provenance:
Recorded as in the ownership of the Kendall family when cleaned by H.R. Bolton of Plymouth in 1843 Nicholas Kendall MP 1865 Christies, London, 17th December 1915, lot 120, bt Blazey. C. Bowring-Hanbury; Puttick & Simpson, London, 31st May 1932, Lot 68 Anon Sale; Sothebys New York, 15th March 1985, lot 34, bt. Fraunces Tavern Museum, New York.
Literature:
C.R. Leslie Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds (London 1865) p57-8 A. Graves & W.V. Cronin: A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds (London 1899) Vol. 2 p. 536. A.L. Baldry: Sir Joshua Reynolds, (London, undated) p.xli E.K. Waterhouse Reynolds (London 1941) p.119 R. Goler, ‘An Early Reynolds Rediscovered,’ Burlington Magazine, London, November 1987 D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, London, 2000, p.286, no.1032
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This portrait represents the first major commission undertaken by one of Britain’s greatest portrait artists, and is an important stylistic insight into his early artistic development. Joshua Reynolds’ career was not only celebrated in his day, but left a lasting influence on British Art. He was the first President of the Royal Academy, and in his ‘Discourses’ set a pattern for portraiture that was faithfully followed until challenged by the Pre-Raphaelites.

In the summer of 1743 Reynolds’ four-year-long apprenticeship to Thomas Hudson came to an abrupt end following a minor but overblown argument. By the beginning of 1744, however, Reynolds was confident enough of his own abilities to establish himself as a portraitist, operating in London and his native Devon, and especially Plymouth, which at the time was enjoying the most prosperous period in its history. During the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 Plymouth had been the first town in England to declare support for Prince William of Orange, and his subsequent decision to build naval dockyards there proved the foundation if its prosperity. At some point in 1744 Reynolds was commissioned by Walter Kendall to paint his entire family. Walter Kendall, the Town Clerk in Plymouth, would have been an important member of local society, and thus an excellent patron for Reynolds. The commission to paint as many as seven members of the Kendall family was an important breakthrough in Reynolds’ attempt to establish himself as an artist, for until that point Reynolds had only a handful of portrait commissions to his name.
That Reynolds was able to paint such a remarkably accomplished portrait at the age of only 21, and after a shorter than usual apprenticeship (the normal term being seven years), is hardly surprising given his precocious talent. The thickly textured surfaces so noticeable throughout Reynold’s career can already be seen here, for Reynolds deploying impasto with a degree of accomplishment rarely seen in artists of such inexperience. Furthermore, Reynold’s pre-eminent skill for capturing character can also be noticed in the sharp rendering of Kendall’s expressive eyes, the sheer intensity of which would not have been seen before in a portrait of a provincial town clerk.
And yet, at the same time, this portrait displays some of the typical weaknesses that one would forgive in any young artist. There is, for example, a rather awkward conjunction between the sitter’s neck and collar, which may reflect Reynold’s admitted lack of confidence in drawing from life. Nevertheless, the effect of the whole is still uncompromisingly Reynoldsian, and signals an important moment in the career of the man who would change not only the repertoire of English characterizations – henceforth depicted with intellect, vigour and imagination - but also the history of British art.
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