Exhibition | Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on December 20, 2014

From the press release for the exhibition:

Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint
The Wallace Collection, London, 12 March — 7 June 2015

Curated by Lucy Davis, Mark Hallett, and Alexandra Gent

A room hung with pictures is a room hung with thoughts. –Joshua Reynolds (1784)

The Wallace Collection’s spring exhibition will offer a fresh perspective on the work of a towering figure of British painting, Joshua Reynolds. Although widely regarded as one of the most important and influential painters of the period, Reynolds’s reputation as an ‘establishment’ artist masks his unquenchable thirst for innovation and his experimental approach to the practice and materials of painting. The exhibition explores Reynolds’s painting techniques, pictorial compositions and narratives through the display of 20 paintings, archival sources and x-ray images.


Joshua Reynolds, Mrs. Abington as Miss Prue in ‘Love for Love’ by William Congreve, 1771 (New Haven Yale Center for British Art)

Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint will draw upon the significant works within the Wallace Collection and major loans from the UK, other European countries and the USA, all chosen to reveal Reynolds’s compositional and narrative experimentation and his unorthodox choice of materials, admixtures of paint and complex layering techniques. The exhibition reveals discoveries made during a four-year research project into the outstanding collection of twelve Reynolds paintings at the Wallace Collection.

With support from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, TEFAF, the Hertford House Trust, various private donors, and Trusts and drawing on the research expertise of the National Gallery in London and the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, the exhibition spans most of Reynolds’s career and includes portraits, ‘fancy’ pictures and history painting.

On display will be celebrated portraits such as Nelly O’Brien (c.1762–64), Mrs Abington as Miss Prue (1771) and Reynolds’s own Self Portrait Shading the Eyes (1747–49) together with experimental studies and a canvas showing how Reynolds observed the effects of different combinations of colour and media. Collectively, alongside the hidden stories behind the paintings, archive resources and x-ray-images, the exhibition demonstrates the diversity of Reynolds’s artistic production, his highly original approach to image-making, composition and narrative, and prompts us to review opinions and perceptions of this truly experimental artist.

Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint has been curated by Dr Lucy Davis, Curator of Old Master Pictures at the Wallace Collection, Professor Mark Hallett, Director of Studies in British Art at the Paul Mellon Centre and Alexandra Gent, also responsible for paintings conservation for the Reynolds Research Project. Director of the Wallace Collection, Dr Christoph Martin Vogtherr initiated the Reynolds Research Project. The Wallace Collection is a leading centre for the study of Joshua Reynolds and owns twelve important paintings by the artist dating from 1759 until the end of his career, covering several important aspects of his oeuvre: bust-length, half-length and full-length portraits of male and female sitters, ‘fancy’ pictures and a rare history painting.

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From Paul Holberton:

Lucy Davis and Mark Hallet, eds., Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint (London: Paul Holberton Publishing, 2015), 192 pages, ISBN: 978-0900785757, £30 / $50.

9780900785757_p0_v2_s600One of Britain’s most important and influential painters, Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) is justly celebrated for his dynamic portraiture, his poignant ‘fancy pictures’, his ambitious history paintings and his role as the first President of Britain’s Royal Academy.

This catalogue, published to accompany a major exhibition at the Wallace Collection, provides a fresh perspective on the artist, focusing on his innovative, often highly experimental approaches to the practice and materials of painting. Building on the many discoveries made during a four-year research project into the outstanding collection of the artist’s works at the Wallace Collection, Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint investigates his radical manipulation of pigments, oils, glazes and varnishes. It traces his experiments with colour, tone and handling, reveals his continual temptation to rework and revise his pictures, and illuminates his highly creative responses to the new exhibition culture of his day. It also suggests the extent to which the artist’s work was founded upon a radical agenda of pictorial assemblage, in which he mixed anew the motifs, narratives and visual effects he drew from in the great art of the past. Finally, it demonstrates how Reynolds’s innovations as a painter were often the product of collaboration—in part, with his assistants and his students, but, more importantly, with his patrons and subjects, with whom he continually explored the possibilities of gesture, expression, performance and role-play.

The catalogue features an introduction, seven essays by leading scholars, curators and conservators, a chronology of the artist’s life and career, and detailed entries on a range of Reynolds’s pictures, at the centre of which are the Wallace Collection’s own collection of works by the artist.

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