English artists could only make a living with portraits or landscape. Reynolds, making the best of it, aspired to raise the status of portraiture to the level of history painting by ennobling it through the language of the antique and the Italian old masters. This ideal was supported by a series of lectures called Discourses. Reynolds was the first president of the Royal Academy and an intimate of the leading men and women of his day, including Dr. Johnson, Burke, Mrs. Thrale, and David Garrick. His chief rival Gainsborough (1727–1788) hit the nail on the head when he said, “damn him, how various he is”. His technique was sometimes flawed and his sitters can look too pale because the reds in their cheeks have faded.
Books on Joshua Reynolds
Mark Hallett, Reynolds: Portraiture in Action, New Haven, 2014.
David Mannings and Martin Postle, Sir Joshua Reynolds: a Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, New Haven, 2000.
Nicholas Penny, ed., Reynolds, exh. cat., New York, 1986.
James Northcote, Memoirs of Sir Joshua Reynolds, London, 1813.