Reynolds portrait bought for Birmingham

The Art Fund has helped Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery buy a Joshua Reynolds portrait of Dr John Ash, co-founder of the city's General Hospital.

The painting has remained in the ownership of Birmingham General Hospital since it was first commissioned, but since 1994 it has been on loan to Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, which has now bought the portrait for its permanent collection.

Dr Ash

Dr John Ash was a prominent Birmingham physician, famous for being the co-founder of the Birmingham General Hospital 'for the relief of the sick and the lame'. He was personally responsible for the planning of the building in which he served as senior physician in 1779.

This portrait was commissioned by the hospital's governors to honour Dr Ash's services to the people of Birmingham. Reynolds was the pre-eminent portraitist of his day and President of the Royal Academy. He succeeded in conveying his sitter's character through the inclusion of symbolic props and meticulously observed facial expression.

The painting

Dr Ash wears the gown of a Doctor of Medicine over a black velvet suit with a formal cravat. He holds a ground plan of Birmingham General Hospital in his right hand and the building itself is seen in the distance; to the right of the hospital it is possible to make out St Philip's Church, which was to become Birmingham's Cathedral in 1905.

Behind the sitter is a statue of Benevolence sheltering a child with her robe. Overall, the painting conveys a strong impression of Ash's character, in which determination and authority were tempered with kindliness.

The total cost of the painting was £875,000, and was bought by Birmingham Museums Trust with help from a £100,000 grant from the Art Fund and £675,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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