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

Commodore Augustus Keppel

Oil on canvas, 239 x 147 cm
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Commodore Keppel was one of fifteen children of the second Earl of Albemarle. After a circumnavigation of the world in 1740, Keppel had a meteoric career in the Royal Navy. As early as 1749, he was promoted to commodore. He invited the young Reynolds to accompany him to the Mediterranean, as a result of which the painter had the opportunity to visit Italy. This study trip was a milestone for Reynolds. The life-size portrait was his thank- you gift to Keppel after their return in 1752. The two remained friends for life.

X-ray pictures show that Reynolds experimented with Keppel's pose, and changed it, but from the outset, there must have been the idea to quote the famous Belvedere Apollo. Keppel's striding posture resembles the classical statue, but is reproduced frontally. The borrowed pose bears the thought of the idealization of the individual.

The painting shows the supple painting technique of the early works, carefully executed with soft brushes. Keppel is standing on a small strip of shoreline in front of a steep cliff-face. The dramatic scene relates to an event in 1747, when Keppel, following a shipwreck off the coast of Brittany - hinted at in the background - was arrested and court-martialled. The scenery with the storm, the wild surf, the rocky coast and the flickering lightning is in accordance with the aesthetic of the sublime, and enhances the heroic character of the naval officer, who, unimpressed by the forces of nature, poses for the painter. The pose and the landscape idealize the sitter.

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