Reynolds 300: Portrait of Charles Rogers

Reynolds 300: Portrait of Charles Rogers

18 May 2023

The Box's historically important Cottonian Collection contains thousands of fine and rare prints, drawings, paintings, watercolours, books, sculpture and furniture, and represents the changing tastes and interests of five generations of men over a period of more than 250 years. The man in this portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) is the second of the five.

Charles Rogers was born on August 2, 1711 to William and Isabella of Soho, London and went on to become an avid art collector. In 1731, he began working for William Townson at the Customs Office. Townson is the man the Cottonian Collection really began with. He collected books and prints and Rogers acquired his taste for the fine arts from him. When Townson died in 1740, he left his estate to Rogers. It included three houses, one of which was filled with art.

Prints were Rogers’ particular fascination. He started collecting in the 1730s and during his lifetime he built one of the largest and finest print collections in England.

Rogers had a discerning eye. He frequently changed prints for better impressions and used his network of dealers and agents to collect across Europe. He was also an author. In 1778, the year after he sat for this portrait, he published ‘A Collection of Prints in Imitation of Drawings to which are annexed Lives of their authors’.

Made up of two volumes it contained 112 copies of original old master drawings – not just from his own collection, but also from the Royal Collection and other private collections in England. He commissioned the leading engravers of the day to create versions that were as close as possible to the original drawings in size, colour and style.

Rogers commissioned Reynolds to create this portrait in 1777. An engraving by William Ryland (1733-1783) was made the following year. Rogers had some reservations about it and later wrote to art historian Horace Walpole (1717-1797) that he thought it made him look too young. Walpole replied to reassure him that "posterity will not know at what age the Likeness was taken"!

After Rogers died on January 2, 1784 his collections were passed to his brother-in-law William Cotton. It was the next stage in the journey of the Cottonian Collection – one that would eventually lead to The Box and the fine collection we now care for.

Thanks to Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer