Reynolds – Masters Of Painting

AFTER Reynolds, then a young man of twenty-nine, returned from his long tour on the Continent, he opened his first London studio, with his younger sister, Frances, as housekeeper. This was in St. Martin’s Lane, a favorite resort of artists, in a house which survived the great portrait-painter for nearly a century, but which has now vanished be-fore the ” march of improvement.” Sir Joshua’s second abode in London was at 5 Great Newport Street, not far from St. Martin’s Lane, — all his London residences were within five minutes’ walk of each other, —and here he painted portraits of the Duchess of Hamilton and the Countess of Coventry, formerly the beautiful Miss Cunnings. Some of his best work was done about this period, which was his busiest and most lucrative time, and it is said that in 1758 he had as many as one hundred and fifty sitters in the course of the year.

Early in 1760 Reynolds moved to Leicester Square, where he leased a mansion for forty-seven years for £1,650, in addition to £1,500, which he had to pay for a gallery and painting-rooms, not only for himself but for the use of his pupils and assistants. To the expense of this new establishment was added a fine carriage, gilded and decorated, which the artist now set up. These large outlays consumed nearly all his savings, so it is not strange that he raised his prices for heads, half-lengths, and full-lengths to twenty-five, fifty, and a hundred guineas, respectively.

Though the Leicester Square house still stands, interior alterations have done away with Sir Joshua’s painting-room. The Royal Academy owns his sitter’s chair, also the easel, of mahogany and elaborately carved, given to the artist by his friend Mason, the poet. Reynolds always stood up while painting, and usually worked from eleven till four o’clock.

Miss Gerard has written an interesting paper upon Sir Joshua’s models.

She says : ” Again, with women of a different class, how well he conveys their lack of dignity, and yet gives them all their wonderful fascinations ; as, for instance, in his portrait of the capricious, wilful favorite of the public, Mrs. Abingdon. The hoydenish simplicity of the actress is well depicted in the Saltram picture of her as Miss Prue, with her arms leaning on the back of a chair and her thumb upon her lips. It is a masterpiece, and happily is in excellent preservation. Mrs. Abingdon was a great favorite with Sir Joshua, but she was not one of his models. From his note-books we find Nelly O’Brien and Kitty Fisher were his principal sitters. He painted Nelly in different attitudes, many times ; perhaps not quite so often as Kitty, whom he seemed to have preferred. Perhaps the most beautiful of Nelly is the one in the Hertford collection, which was painted in 1763 and was exhibited at the Manchester Exhibition in 1857. It represents her in full sunlight, in an attitude of lazy enjoyment, sitting with her hands crossed, a pet spaniel on her knee. Her voluptuous face, raised as if at the approach of one she has been watching for, is lit up under the shade of the flat Woffington hat by the reflected lights from her dress, a quilted rose-colored slip with lace over it, a black lace apron and mantilla, and a sacque of striped blue silk.

“Her rival, Kitty Fischer, or Fisher, disputed with her the post of Sir Joshua’s favorite model. Kitty’s name is constantly recurring in the note-books of the painter. She was a German by birth, her father being a cabinet-maker in Ovenden Street, while her uncle played the hautboy at the Opera House.

Kitty, like Nelly O’Brien, began by being an actress, but soon gave up the profession. She was brought to Sir Joshua’s studio by his friend Keppel, and from that time she was his constant model for many years.

” In his pocket-book for 1759 is the date of the first sitting — Sunday, April 9th. This appointment with Miss Fisher is in Sir Joshua’s handwriting ; the next appointment is in a different one, — Mr. Cotton conjectures the lady’s, — and there is an N. B.: ‘ Miss Fisher’s picture is for Sir Charles Bingham.’ Kitty was what was called a ‘Huckaback Beauty;’ she was less handsome, but more dangerously fascinating than Nelly O’Brien. There were seven portraits of her by Sir Joshua. Of these, perhaps, the most beautiful for coloring and delicious languor of re-pose is Cleopatra Dissolving the Pearl,’ which he painted for his great friend, Mr. Parker of Saltram, afterward Lord Morley, in whose collection it is.

” It is a curious fact that in all her portraits Kitty looks the same age, and all are equally lovely, ‘Simplicity ‘ being, perhaps, the least satisfactory. Here she has one dove on her lap, another on her knee. There is an affected air of steadiness belied by the sly look in the eyes, and which does not not sit well upon a lady of Miss Fisher’s vivacity. One can hardly acquit the artist of a touch of irony toward his favorite. Leslie says, ‘ The lady looks as innocent as her doves, as no doubt she could look if she so pleased.’ It is, however, an admirable picture, and was very popular.

” At Petworth there is a quaint and lovely portrait of her, with her arms crossed upon a letter which lies before her. Upon the paper fold is written : ‘ June 9th, 1759. My dear Kitty Fisher.’

“Another portrait of her is in the Lansdowne Gallery, with a parrot on her finger. The loveliest of all, however, is an unfinished head in powder and fly-cap, done for Lord Carysfort. This is the last one of her, for in 1767 she became Mrs. Norris, having succeeded in inducing a young gentleman of good family to marry her, and from this time she disappeared from the note-books.

“Kitty, unlike her rival, Nelly, was well educated, and had many attractions, being, Mr. Leslie says, ‘ A very agreeable, genteel person. She was the essence of small talk and the magazine of temporary anecdote ; add to this, she spoke French with great fluency, and was mistress of a most uncommon share of spirits. It was impossible to be dull in her company, as she would ridicule her own foibles rather than want a subject for raillery. Her constant companion, Miss Summers, afterward Mrs. Skeyne, whom she introduced into all her parties, was another great source of entertainment, as this lady was not only a professed satirist, but a woman of learning and an excellent companion.’ . . . Another sitter to Sir Joshua was the beautiful Miss Morris, who sat for one of his loveliest creations, ‘ Hope Nursing Love.’ It was exhibited at the first exhibition of the Royal Academy, 1769. The picture, which is in the Bowood Gallery, has kept its color better than almost any of Sir Joshua’s.

” The story of the young lady who sat for this beautiful picture is somewhat pathetic. She was the daughter of Mr. Valentine Morris, governor of one of the West Indian Islands. On his death, his widow with her four children came to England in great poverty, and Sir Joshua, who had known them in better days, took the liveliest interest in the family. It was thought that if she adopted the stage as a profession, her beauty and grace might ensure her success. When, through Sir Joshua’s interest, she appeared at Covent Garden, in November, 1768, as Juliet, her friends mustered in great force to support her through the ordeal. Sir Joshua was there, and Johnson and Goldsmith, between the Jessamy Bride and Little Comedy, but even their friendly faces could not in-spire the poor girl with any courage. She could not utter a word, and was obliged to retreat ignominiously. No entreaties could induce her to appear again. Her failure, however, preyed upon her, and she died soon after of rapid consumption.

“For his ‘Venus,’ which was one of the best of his mythological pictures, Sir Joshua employed as his model a very beautiful girl of sixteen, the daughter of his man servant, Ralph. Mason, describing his visit to the studio, remarks :

“‘ I have said that Sir Joshua always had a living archetype before him whenever he painted what was not a mere portrait. In this practice he imitated Guido, who would make a common porter sit to him for a Madonna, merely to have that nature before him from which he might depart. So, in this instance of the ” Venus.” When I saw the picture on the easel, he was finishing the head, a young girl, her flaxen hair flowing on her shoulders, sitting opposite to him. When next I came, he was painting the body, and in his sitting-chair was a beggar woman with a nude child, not above a year old, on her knee. As may be imagined, I could not help expressing my astonishment at seeing him paint the carnation of the Goddess of Beauty from such an unhealthy – looking model, but he answered that, whatever I might think, the child’s flesh assisted him in giving a certain morbidezza to his own coloring, which he thought he could not arrive at had he not such an object before his eyes.’

“We come now to the most celebrated model of her day — that extraordinary woman, Emma Harte, or Lyon, afterward the Lady Hamilton. Although she did sit to Sir Joshua twice, she was not a favorite model of his, neither was he successful in the one portrait he has left of her. Romney caught the laughing devil in her wonderful eyes ; Sir Joshua escaped it.

” It is not easy to say whether the Miss Kelly whose name appears so often in Sir Joshua’s note-books was paid for her sittings to the artist, for she, like Miss Morris, had a father in bad circumstances. Miss Kelly was remarkably handsome, and had the honor of attracting for some time the wandering fancy of Dean Swift. Mrs. Delany, in her letters to Miss Bushe, talks of the conquest ‘Pretty Kelly has made of the dean. He is in love with her at present.’

” In his latter days a niece of Sir Joshua, Miss Theophila Palmer, the ‘ Offey’ of the note-books, and who was to him as a daughter, sat constantly for his fancy sketches, more especially for those in which girlish archness is the dominant expression, such as the ‘Strawberry Girl ‘ and the ‘Laughing Girl ; ‘ there is also a Miss Jones, who sat occasionally, and the unfortunate Emily Coventry, who sat for the picture of ‘Thais; ‘ with her ends the list of Sir Joshua’s female models.”

The late Charles Green, an admirable English artist in black and white and water-color, drew the picture of Sir Joshua at work, which we reproduce. Green, who was born in 1840 and died in 1898, made many excellent illustrations to Dickens, and was one of the foremost among the able band of artists who worked on the Graphic. To the Royal Academy he contributed, among other works, “A Consultation,” “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” ” A Choice Vintage,” and ” A Fleet Marriage.”