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

Mr. James Bourdieu

Oil on canvas, 128 x 103 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

As a portraitist and art-theoretician, Joshua Reynolds was the leading head of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. As its first president since its foundation in 1768, he was knighted in 1769. Sir Joshua tirelessly promoted a higher status for the portrait as a genre to compete with history painting. His total of fifteen Discourses on Art began in 1769 as addresses delivered at the Academy's award ceremonies and continued until 1790.

As early as 1779 the first eight Discourses appeared in book form, and made art a topic of public discussion. The portrait was, for Reynolds, the expression of the "grand style" when it was based on artistic exemplars. The depiction of the person should, he said, be subordinated to a "general idea", and the "effect" too should be of "general" validity. For Reynolds, a favoured compositional means was the borrowing of figural motifs from the store of classical and modern art. The "borrowed attitudes" were intended to ennoble the sitter and distinguish the artist as a master who had studied the great works of the past and reinterpreted their inventions.

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