REYNOLDS, Sir Joshua
(b. 1723, Plympton Earl, d. 1792, London)

Francis Rawdon-Hastings

c. 1789
Oil on canvas, 240 x 147,9 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor

The portrait was painted for Frederick, Duke of York, at whose sale it was acquired by George IV for £72 9s. According to the artist's pocket-book, the work was begun in June-July 1789. It was still in progress in September when a newspaper report commented on 26 September 1789: 'Lord Rawdon's head is done - and, what is extraordinary with Sir Joshua, in two sittings. The figure, drapery, and landscape are sketched out, and in their first colour - so may be safely as well as easily finished.' A record of payment exists dated May 1790, when the portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy. An engraving was issued in 1792. Evidence of changes made by Reynolds can be seen in the outline of the hat and the arrangement of the curtain wrapped around the tree, while the initial painting of the sky can be detected beneath the trees in the middle distance and in the far landscape.

Reynolds had the keenest intelligence of any painter working in eighteenth-century Britain. His appointment as the first President of the Royal Academy in 1768 was as much a reflection of his intellectual powers as of his abilities as an artist, as indicated by the Discourses on Art addressed to the students of the Academy between 1769 and 1790. In addition, a considerable amount is known of his working practices over the years owing to the survival of many of his pocket-books, quite apart from knowledge of his personality and conversation as recorded in James Boswell's Life of Johnson (1791). Yet, with all those advantages, Reynolds failed to please George III and Queen Charlotte. Although he was granted the position of Principal Painter to the King in 1784 in succession to Allan Ramsay, it was said that 'The King and Queen could not endure the presence of him; he was poison to their sight.'

This portrait of the Marquess of Hastings (1754-1826) dates from near the end of the artist's life when his eyesight (like his hearing) had begun to fail. Indeed, a note in his pocket-book of 13 July 1789 records that his eye 'began to be obscured', and it seems likely that this portrait was one of the last he painted with a sitter in front of him. Yet, Reynolds, in spite of such difficulties, created with seeming ease an heroic image. The tall figure posed against a tree is framed by the swirling smoke of battle echoed by the twisted curtain. His sword and hat are silhouetted against the background. The stance, with the right leg thrust forward and the hand raised to the chin as though in conversation, suggests a certain confidence in the face of danger. The figure is alert but dignified.

The Marquess of Hastings is shown wearing the undress uniform of a Colonel and ADC to George III, the rank he held from 1782 until 1793. He was a soldier and statesman close to both the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York. His military service was undertaken in America during the War of Independence, in Brittany and the Netherlands. Appointed Master of Ordnance (1806-7), he was also made Governor of Bengal from 1813 to 1822 and Governor of Malta in 1824. He died at sea. Reynolds's portrait of George IV when Prince of Wales with a Page (now at Arundel Castle, Sussex) was presented to the Marquess of Hastings by the Prince of Wales as a mark of friendship in 1810.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.