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By the 1760s, Reynolds was very much a part of London society and had made the acquaintance of powerful families, leading thinkers, actors and politicians.

He was active in the Society of Artists when it was created in 1759, drafting their policy documents and submitting his work to their annual shows. By 1768 he was a Director but quarrels amongst the artists had caused great divisions and the Society disbanded.

The Royal Academy as we know it today was created by King George III later that year. Reynolds had not previously enjoyed a good relationship with the monarch, having been passed over in favour of Allan Ramsay for the position of Painter to the King in 1761.

However, once he realised the King was serious about granting licence to create the Academy and make him President, he returned from where he was staying in France. He was elected on 14 December 1768.

The Academy's aim was (and still is) 'to promote the arts of design'. It was an art school, an exhibition venue and a lobbying body for British artists. Reynolds was truly dedicated to the cause of British art and combined his painting with running the Academy for some 20 years, helping to develop its theories and becoming its chief spokesperson. The annual discourses that he gave to students were eventually published and remain with us today as some of the earliest formal art lessons in England.