- Museum number
Self-portrait at the age of twenty-six; head and shoulders to front, hair falling on shoulders. 1750
Black chalk and stump, heightened with white, on blue-grey paper
- Production date
Height: 412 millimetres
Width: 273 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The following text is from S. Lloyd and K. Sloan, 'The Intimate Portrait' (exh. SNPG & BM, 2008-9), cat. no.51:
When Reynolds was nearly eighteen, he was apprenticed to Thomas Hudson, a fellow Devonian, who had recently moved his portrait practise to London. Hudson had assembled a remarkable collection of Old Master drawings which he permitted Reynolds to copy. Occasionally he sent the young artist to bid for them at auction where on one occasion he met Alexander Pope. Reynolds's early notebooks are filled with quotations from the poet and his friend Jonathan Richardson, Hudson's master and father-in-law, whose writings Reynolds admired. Richardson collected drawings himself and advised others on their collections; he argued that 'great taste' could only be acquired by studying classical sculpture and Italian painting. An opportunity to travel to Italy presented itself in 1749 and the following April Reynolds was in Rome.
This self-portrait is dated a month later. When it was purchased by the British Museum, it was believed to be by John Astley (1724-87), a fellow pupil of Hudson who had arrived in Rome in February 1750 to study drawing under Batoni after two years in Florence. Reynolds spent most of his time filling ten notebooks with his sketches and notes on the collections he visited and acquiring prints and drawings. Their sketchy drawing style is nothing like the present work. It was the relationship of the drawing to Reynolds's other numerous self portraits, and particularly the pose and direct gaze that are so indicative of a self-portrait that led to the change of attribution to Reynolds himself.
At Richardson's sales early in 1747, Hudson had purchased a group of studies for portraits by Van Dyck in black and white chalk on blue paper which later came into Reynolds's own collection (all now BM); his stylistic debt here is probably to chalk studies for portraits by those earlier artists working in Britain whose drawings Reynolds knew well.
The drawing has been described as 'idealized', as it only hints at the damage to his upper lip after a fall from his horse in 1749, which is clearly visible in his dramatic Self-portrait in oils from that year showing him holding his palette and shading his eyes (NPG) and his self portrait (YCBA) painted in Italy and indeed all of his later self-portraits. All the other features, however, are completely natural. The lifted chin and direct gaze of this beautiful drawing lend it a kind of arrogance which was perhaps more to do with the positioning of the mirror than an indication of Reynolds's character which was known to be studious and rather shy. The drawing is very similar to an earlier 'serious and rather earnest' self portrait made at the beginning of his apprenticeship (Sotheby's 6 or 12?June 2003, lot 1; again Sotheby's 14 July 2010, lot 50); they are the only drawings of this type in his oeuvre apart from a late 'Self-portrait as a Figure of Terror' (Tate Britain) based on the illustration of 'fright' in Le Brun's treatise on the passions. The three drawings seem to mark important stages in his life in a way similar to his many self-portraits in oil, but unlike the latter which hung in public spaces and many of which were engraved, the drawings are more intimate and personal, more inwardly examining - a statement and reminder to himself rather than to others.
LB 1 (under John Astley); London 1978, no. 83; 'Gainsborough and Reynolds in the British Museum', eds. Clifford et al., BM, London, 1986, pp.18-19; D. Mannings, 'Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-1745): The Self-Portraits', Plymouth City Museums and Art Gallery, Plymouth, 1992, no. 5; Ingamells 1997, pp.32-3, 808-10; 'Joshua Reynolds', ed. M. Postle, Tate, London, 2005, pp.73-87
A painted self-portrait by Joshua Reynolds was exhibited at the Tate Britain in 'Joshua Reynolds: The Creation of Celebrity' (2005). See cat no.2, p.76. Reynolds has painted himself seated facing left, looking over his shoulder towards the viewer. M. Postle references this drawing as a comparison as both portraits are unusual for being early self-portraits and depict Reynolds slightly tilting his head upwards, giving the viewer an impression of confidence or even arrogance, despite the fact that Reynolds is believed to have been quite shy. Postle points out that Reynolds has portrayed himself with a slimmer face in the painting and in this drawing, suggesting that he had lost weight during his travels around Italy. See M.Postle, 'Joshua Reynolds: The Creation of Celebrity', (London: Tate),2005,p.76-77.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1961 Feb-Mar, Birmingham City Art Gallery, Sir Joshua Reynolds, no. 89B
1969 BM, 'Royal Academy Draughtsmen 1769-1969', no.31
1974 Jul-Dec, BM, Portrait Drawings, no.167
1978/9, 19 Oct-14 Jan., BM P&D, Gainsborough and Reynolds in BM, No.83
1990 Apr-Aug, BM, Treasures of P&D, (no cat.)
2005 7 Jul-25 Sep, BM, 'Masterpieces of Portrait Drawing' (no cat.)
2008/9 Oct-Jan, Edinburgh, SNPG, 'The Intimate Portrait,' no. 51
2009 Mar-May, London, BM, Room 90, 'The Intimate Portrait,' no. 51
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number