The local lad
Joshua Reynolds grew up in the small west Devon town of Plympton. He attended his father's school where it became clear very early on that he had artistic ability.
In October 1740 with the encouragement and support of his family, a 17 year old Reynolds arrived in London where he was to be apprenticed by the Exeter-born portrait painter, Thomas Hudson.
The apprenticeship was supposed to last for four years but after three years learning his trade, and a disagreement with his mentor, Reynolds returned to Devon. His time in the capital had equipped him with enough skill to set up as a portrait painter and quickly began to attract customers, mainly local professionals, and began to divide his time between Plymouth and London.
By the time of his father's death in 1745, Reynolds was running his own studio in Plymouth Dock - an area of the city now known as Devonport. Dock was the centre for the British Navy at the time and so he painted the portraits of many senior ranking officers.
Reynolds knew how to make friends and influence people and he also began to forge relationships with local land-owning families. These included the Parkers of Saltram House, Devon; The Eliots of St Germans, Cornwall; the Edgcumbes of Mount Edgcumbe, Cornwall and the Poles of Antony House, Cornwall. This local patronage was to keep him in work for many years and open many doors for him. By making connections with some of the key figures of his time Reynolds began to weave himself into the fabric of 18th century public life.
Reynolds at Port EliotIn early 2007, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery acquired 23 portraits from the Trustees of the Port Eliot Estate through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. 14 of these were painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Take a look at the documents below to find out more about them.