Reynolds 300: Portrait of Samuel Reynolds

Reynolds 300: Portrait of Samuel Reynolds

18 May 2023

The Reverend Samuel Reynolds (1681-1745), was the School Master of Plympton St Maurice Grammar School. Most importantly, he's a father who played a pivotal role in his child’s life and future career.

Samuel’s seventh child was none other than Sir Joshua Reynolds. Born in July 1723, Joshua entered his father’s school and was given the usual instruction “in the classicks”. Samuel had intended him to become an apothecary, but it quickly became clear that his son's talent lay elsewhere.

Joshua began to draw, and draw well. He raided his father’s library for books on art and culture. The Reverend Samuel might have been expected to squash this natural talent and clip his wings, but instead he wrote with pride of Joshua’s “very great genius for drawing”.

The Reverend had a modest collection of prints and drawings, and shared this passion with his son. He also encouraged his well-connected Devon friends to support Joshua, who by this time was determined that “he would rather be an apothecary than an ordinary painter; but if he could be bound to an eminent master, he should choose the latter”.

With his father’s careful manoeuvering, Joshua side-stepped the offer of an apprenticeship to John Warwell, a jobbing painter in Devon, and secured a more advantageous place in the studio of London-based portrait painter Thomas Hudson where he learned the basics of the business, and began to build his reputation.

Joshua painted this portrait of his father when he was 22 years old. Modest and simple at first glance, you see it in a different light when you realise it was probably painted from memory following The Reverend Samuel’s death on Christmas Day 1745.

Joshua painted his father in profile, in the same way that Emperors and other great leaders have been shown on coins and medals throughout history.

In the 1740s, there was a trend toward showing great intellectuals in profile. I like to think this was Joshua’s way of memorialising his father as a modest, intelligent and thoughtful man.

It could also be seen as his way of thanking his father for his guiding hand at the dawn of his career, and for setting him on the path that would see him become the Founding President of the Royal Academy and one of the most successful portrait painters this country has ever produced.

Thanks to Emma Philip, former Senior Curator