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Sir Joshua Reynolds

Seated youth, after Guercino

Full screen

Pen and brown ink on buff paper
10 × 7 ½ inches · 254 × 197 mm
Drawn c. 1740
  • Agnew's, London;
  • John Nicholas Brown, Providence, Rhode Island, 1942;
  • David Tunick, New York; 
  • Private Collection, USA to 2017. 
  • Omaha, Society of Liberal Arts, Joslyn Memorial, 1942, no. 97; 
  • (loaned by John Nicholas Brown);
  • Rhode Island School of Design, Providence (according to old label);
  • Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge (according to old label). 

This bold and incisive drawing was made by Joshua Reynolds at the beginning of his artistic career, whilst he was working in the studio of Thomas Hudson. As such, it is a rare instance of the drawings Reynolds made during his short apprenticeship whilst he was learning his trade as a painter. Hudson had a large and important collection of drawings, many of them acquired from his father-in-law Jonathan Richardson. This beautiful sheet proves that they had a practical application, being used by his students to learn to draw.

Joshua Reynolds was born in Plymouth, where his father was a schoolmaster. He received a broad education and was encouraged to read widely. His commonplace book at Yale contains passages copied from classical authors: Theophrastus, Plutarch, Seneca, Marcus Antonius, and Ovid, as well as Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Dryden, Addison, Steele, and Aphra Behn. Significantly, the commonplace book also includes extracts from the writings on art theory by Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Alphonse Du Fresnoy, and André Félibien. Reynolds began his artistic studies by copying. We know that he made several accurate reproductions of frontispieces from plates in books, several of which have survived they include a slight perspective drawing from The Practice of Perspective by Jean Dubreuil and a detail of a library from William Parson's English translation of Félibien’s The Tent of Darius Explain'd.[1]

In 1738, when Reynolds was fourteen, his father entered into correspondence with a neighbouring landowner, James Bulteel, concerning his son's career prospects. Bulteel suggested that Joshua should go to London, offering to introduce him personally to ‘those in artistic circles.’[2] In the Spring of 1740, it was agreed that Reynolds should be bound to Hudson for a period of four years. Hudson was also from Devon and had many clients in the West Country, suggesting that he may in fact have been one of Bulteel’s contacts. At this date, Hudson lived and worked in Newman's Row, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London. Reynolds's daily routine at this time involved running errands, preparing canvases, painting accessories in portraits, and perhaps even making replicas of Hudson's pictures. He also made drawings from casts of antique statuary, including one of the Laocoön. Reynolds also made copies after pen and ink drawings by Guercino. They are uniformly of a very high quality, and Hudson retained several of them among his own Old-Master drawings collection.

The present drawing is a close copy of a sheet by Guercino, formerly in the collection of Denis Mahon and now in the Ashmoleon Museum. The drawing originally formed part of the substantial group of works by Guercino which had been acquired in Italy from Guercino’s descendants by an English traveller, John Bouverie. This sheet therefore offers evidence that Bouverie’s drawings were available for study by collectors and artists in London in the 1740s.

Reynolds’s early biographer, his student, James Northcote was dismissive of Reynolds’s early training:

‘instead of directing him to study from the antique models, he recommended to him the careful copying of Guercino’s drawings, thus trifling his time away; this instance served to shew the deplorable state of the arts at that time in this country: however, the youthful and tractable pupil executed his task with such skill, that many of these early productions are now preserved in the cabinets of the curious in this kingdom; most of which are actually considered as masterly originals by Guercino himself.’[3]

The present sheet demonstrates how successfully Reynolds was at manufacturing Guercino’s technical mannerisms; the use of dots, dashes and more sculptural lines combined with wash are close to the prototype.[4] The drawing is richly inked and rapidly drawn, preserving to a very great degree the force and spontaneity of the original sheet. As a rare survival of Reynolds’s celebrated Guercino copies, this drawing is both important evidence of his early training and a spirited and intelligent work by Britain’s leading painter of the eighteenth century. 


  1. J. Edgcumbe, ‘Reynolds's earliest drawings’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 129, 1987, pp.724–6.
  2. D. Hudson, Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Personal Study, London, 1958, p.14. 
  3. J. Northcote, The Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds, London, 1819, v.I, p.18. 
  4. For several of Reynolds’s drawings after Guercino, ed. Sam Smiles, Sir Joshua Reynolds; The Acquisition of Genius, Bristol, Exh. Cat (Plymouth Art Gallery), 2009, cat. nos. 80 and 81.