Old Master paintings, on view at the celebrated international art fair Maastricht starting March 15 in the Netherlands, will include a rediscovered self-portrait by 18th century Sir Joshua Reynolds titled “Uffizi Self-Portrait.”
Reynolds painted his image when the Grand Duke of Tuscany asked him to contribute to the gallery of self-portraits of the Medici Collection at the Uffizi.
Donning the red robes and black velvet cap of an Oxford University Doctor of Civil Law - an honorary title that Reynolds received and took pride in – he clearly wanted to look www.examiner.com/article/portraits-as-truth-telling-exercises knowledgeable, cerebral.
And there’s an irony to that.
Even though Reynolds painted more than 100 portraits that lent sitters a glorifying grandeur, almost to the point of silliness, he favored painting children because of their unstudied ways.
At the same time, he used Renaissance-like layouts, painting children surrounded by antique statuary. For example, he posed the figures “Lady Elizabeth Delore and Her Children” in the same majestic pyramidal arrangement of the Holy Family in Renaissance art.
Reynolds also had a penchant for picturing children with pink cheeks, blond curls, white outfits, and colored ribbons – as if to emphasize their innocence. “Age of Innocence,” likely his best-known child portrait, was not commissioned. It was simply a character study. (Unfortunately, his technique was defective and the “Age of Innocence” has aged badly with cracks and flaking in the paint).
“Age of Innocence” is believed to be the likeness of Reynolds’s great-niece Theophila Gwatkin. But the sitter could also be Lady Anne Spencer, youngest daughter of the 4th Duke of Marlborough because there’s a similarly looking child in Reynolds's group portrait of The Marlborough Family (Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire).
Reporting on Reynolds’ interest in portraying children, the 19th century historian Allan Cunningham said that one of the artist’s axioms was that because children’s gestures are dictated by nature, they should be pictured as graceful. Reynolds believed that affectation and mannerisms came in with their dancing master.
When Reynolds biographer James Northcote talked about the artist’s particular attention to children, he cited the time he was walking through a gallery of portraits in a nobleman’s house with a party of ladies and gentlemen and a little girl, Reynolds was taken with the girl mimicking the airs and attitudes of the portraits on the wall without realizing that she was being observed.
If you compare Reynold’s self-portrait at the Maastricht, and a self-portrait when he was 17 (in the public domain), which shows him wide-eyed and without guile – the same seen in “Age of Innocence - it’s clear that Reynolds lost his own innocence and likely longed to have it back.