The Seven Discourses of Joshua Reynolds

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The Paintings of Joshua Reynolds

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I have spent so much time reading books about and by artists who rebelled against art traditions, reading this gave me a whiplash.

Obviously, Reynolds directs his thoughts at a male audience, and gives nature a female gender.  The only woman artist he does mention is Elisabetta Sirani and he labeled her as an “imitator”.  It feels as if Reynolds encourages these young men to do with the submissive feminine nature as they see fit.  In his view, painters should improve upon nature.  Also, Reynolds promotes the hierarchy of the arts with classical painting as the highest form and everything else at the bottom.  In another discourse, he insults Hogarth and Durer all because of their choices in subjects and printmaking.  Furthermore, he criticizes Northern Renaissance and Baroque painters for putting too much realism in their works.  He openly condemns the Venetian style for putting too much emphasis on color.  In short, he wants novice artists to go beyond gawking at pretty colors.  He praises the Roman and French schools for their art styles.  In fact, he condescends to the class of artists as he calls “moderns”.

If you click on the Tate-Modern, you can view Reynold’s own paintings, which consist mostly portraits with the occasional scenes from the Classical/Biblical literature and a landscape.  He does create lovely and often poignant work and one can see how much he does not want to emphasize to color in a painting too much.  However, when he does add the occasional bright color, he creates this wonderful sense of delicacy in his subjects.  Lastly, he gives his subjects this wonderful sense of texture and life.

In short, Reynolds believes in substance over style.  Also, he makes fairly correct statements about an artist’s evolution.  He shows that they replicate early art traditions in the beginning, but as they acquire lessons, they develop their own mind and view.  In a nutshell, Reynolds simply wants to promote the power of a university education for students.  Not bad lessons to learn, just a little on the limiting side.

ETA: Tweaked a link.

Update 12/28/2014:  Rewrote some sentences.  Wanted to use my own words. Forget it, I’ll just quote.  It was stupid of me to not have done it in the first place.  Thankfully, I have done better since review.  Years of undergraduate and graduate school, you’d think I’d know better.

Maybe this mistake resulted from me seeing this blog as a rest from that stressful time in my life.

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