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

Admiral Sir Edward Hughes

Oil on canvas, 76 x 63 cm
Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest

Joshua Reynolds, the most important painter in England in the eighteenth century, was the first President of the Royal Academy on its foundation in 1768 and was knighted the following year. Utilizing the pictorial teachings of the past, the compositional principles of Baroque art and the colouring of the Venetian painters of the Renaissance, he became the foremost portrait painter of his time. The members of the English aristocracy and the wealthy middle classes who commissioned him usually expected him, as their official painter, to produce dignified and flattering likenesses, and indeed, by lavish use of external trappings and a truly brilliant capacity for selecting the most becoming pose, he was able to do what was required of him. But he could penetrate beneath the elegant surface and had the power to suggest character and individuality without marring the pleasing overall picture.

Plump, serene and ruddy of face, with an evident partiality for good food and drink, there is something reminiscent of Falstaff in the portrait of Admiral Hughes now in Budapest. The fiery garnet tint of the coat and the gold of the braid and the order on the sitter's breast create a brilliant harmony which marvelously demonstrates the principal virtue of Reynolds's art: his glowing colour. The picture was painted in 1786 and, according to Reynolds's notes, became the property of the Imperial Ambassador in 1787. This Imperial Ambassador was none other than Prince Esterházy, and the picture was acquired by the Museum as part of the Esterházy collection. There is another version in the Painted Hall at Greenwich.

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