You practice an art ruled by men. Worse still, it is one in which your brother is preeminent. This was the delicate position in which Frances Reynolds, professional portraitist and the sister of Sir Joshua, found herself--which is only one of the fascinating highlights of Richard Wendorf's portrait of the 18th century's most fashionable painter...The subtitle of Sir Joshua Reynolds suggests something of its originality, for it is not about the painter of society as much as the painter in society, revealing how the enterprise of portrait-painting illumines the nature of the period. (Robert Taylor Boston Globe)
Sir Joshua Reynolds probably provided more fodder for the would-be biographer than any other British artist who has ever lived...Why then does he remain so elusive? Richard Wendorf, in this hugely stimulating and subtly written study of Reynolds's social life and times, gets nearer to answering that question than anyone else to date. At the heart of Wendorf's text is an investigation of how Reynolds shaped his own persona in order to accommodate others and guarantee his own continued professional advancement. The key word, and one which his contemporaries used in describing him, is 'complaisance'...Reynolds could, when he wished, charm the birds from the trees. He could also be ruthless. Somehow Wendorf resists the temptation to play judge and jury, maintaining a reflective and fair-minded impartiality...Despite the mass of information encountered by Wendorf, few stones are left unturned. In factual terms, Wendorf achieves a high degree of accuracy...Wendorf may not lead one to love Reynolds, but he demonstrates that he remains a pivotal figure for anyone who seeks to understand the interstices of eighteenth-century cultural life. (Martin Postle Apollo Magazine)
[A] luminous study of Reynolds...After finishing this book, we are left not only with an understanding and appreciation of Sir Joshua Reynold's public eminence in art and society, but also of the human side to his private life. (Michael Shinagel Harvard Review)
About the Author
Richard Wendorf is Director and Librarian of the Boston Athenaeum. Among his other books in eighteenth-century studies is The Elements of Life: Biography and Portrait-Painting in Stuart and Georgian England.