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Tony Grist

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Joshua Reynolds [Oct. 25th, 2011|11:27 am]
Tony Grist
I don't care what Blake said about him, Joshua Reynolds was amazing. OK, if a duke or earl wanted the full Van Dyck experience he'd give it them- columns and urns and all- but when he could- with more amenable, more sympathetic clients- he liked to experiment, to try new poses, new ways of expressing character and relationship. There had never been anything before quite like his portrait of his short-sighted friend Joseph Barretti with the book held inches from his eyes, or that profile of Johnson (without the silly wig) looking like a man with a migraine.  Reynolds liked people.  Sieve out his best paintings from the mass and they are good enough to share a wall with Titian or Rembrandt . Is there a better portrait of a military hard-arse than his Heathfield of Gibraltar?  Or- going to the other extreme- a tenderer, more connected portrait of a friend (with benefits?) than his Nelly O' Brien (with her shadowed face moulded by reflected light)? He was particularly good with children. Before Reynolds children were stiff little adults in training; After Reynolds they are people in their own right. He puts them in their own space-  out of doors, in nature, doing characteristically childlike things. He produced any number of pictures of children with dogs, and never repeated a pose or let the conceit turn into a formula.   Before Reynolds every mother and child was essentially a Madonna. Reynolds would have none of that. His mothers play with their kids.  

[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-10-26 11:31 am (UTC)
Reynolds had probably never even heard of Blake.

What Blake hated about Reynolds was that Reynolds praised Michelangelo but painted in the manner of Rembrandt and Rubens (both of whom Blake hated). Blake was a very good hater.

Reynolds gave people what they wanted- just as every artist in history had done. Michelangelo, for instance, worked for the Pope. It's only very recently that artists have gained the status to paint as they damn well pleased. Reynolds, by setting up the Royal Academy, did his bit towards establishing that status.

There exists a core of paintings in Reynolds's huge oeuvre which represent him painting to please himself.
His portraits of his friends- Johnson, Barretti, Garrick, Nelly O'Brien- come into that category, I think- and are touched by genius.
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