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Europe - Journeys abroad

In the 18th century, the 'Grand Tour' of Europe was considered a must for wealthy young men and artists in training.

Reynolds was not an aristocrat but had attracted the attention of the 1st Baron Richard Lord Edgcumbe, of Mount Edgcumbe in Cornwall, who arranged his passage to Italy in 1749.

Reynolds spent two years in Rome, studying the work of great artists from the 16th and 17th centuries and filling his mind with images of Italian art. He then travelled on to Florence, Bologna, Parma and Venice.

By 1753 he was back in London complete with a first-hand, in-depth experience of art history and the knowledge and connections to venture into the London art world as a fully-fledged portrait painter.

He also had a theory that he would apply to his work: to incorporate the grand styles of Italian art into British portraiture using elements such as gesture, expression, arrangement, light and shade in his paintings to make the imperfect look perfect and, in doing so, create an artistic tradition all of Britain’s own. By 1755 he was in great demand and had already painted more than 100 portraits.

   Portrait of Captain, the Hon. John Hamilton by Sir Joshua
   Reynolds © PCMAG