A key proponent of the 'Grand Style' of portraiture and founding president of the Royal Academy, Joshua Reynold stands unchallenged as Plymouth's greatest contribution to the history of art.

Reynolds was born and raised five miles from the city centre in the tin-mining town of Plympton St Maurice, where he would be appointed mayor at age 50. Dated to around 1746, when Reynolds established a portrait studio two miles from Plymouth city centre, the self-portrait acquired by Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery appears as the first entry of Reynold's oeuvre in David Mannings' catalogue raisonné, and is thought to be his first self-portrait in oils. The death of his father in 1745 and subsequent loss of the family home prompted Reynolds to create a series of family portraits, either to commemorate his father's death or impress potential patrons. Each is set within a feigned oval against a warm brown background, and this self-portrait is the centrepiece. The artist gazes out at the viewer with a look of defiance, chin raised, face framed by waves of chestnut hair. The self-portrait is accompanied by a sketchbook from Reynolds' formative travels in Italy. Created between 1750 and 1752, the book's 121 drawings give a rare insight into the works that influenced Reynolds during that early tour of churches and private collections. The sketches include renditions of Andrea del Sarto's Madonna and Child with St. Elisabeth, the Infant St. John and Two Angels and Correggio's Il Giorno, suggesting the sketchbook served Reynolds during his journey from Rome to Venice.

This work was acquired with assistance from the Wolfson Foundation.


i) Given by the artist to his niece, Mrs Mary Palmer; by descent; ii) Mrs Mary Palmer; Christie's; Miss Anne Gwatkin; by decent.

The Box, Plymouth

Drake Circus, Plymouth, Devon, PL4 8AJ
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The Box, Plymouth is a major cultural and heritage attraction scheduled to open in spring 2020. It will feature a series of permanent galleries showcasing the city's art, human history, natural history, film, photographic and archive collections alongside an exciting programme of events, artist commissions and temporary exhibitions. Please see our website for full details and confirmed opening hours.

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