Seven Discourses on Art by Sir Joshua Reynolds


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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Seven Discourses on Art, by Joshua Reynolds,
Edited by Henry Morley

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Title: Seven Discourses on Art

Author: Joshua Reynolds

Release Date: May 8, 2005 [eBook #2176]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


Transcribed from the 1901 Cassell and Company edition by David Price,
email Proofing by David, Dawn Smith, Uzma, Jane
Foster, Juliana Rew, Marie Rhoden and Jo Osment.

by Joshua Reyonds


It is a happy memory that associates the foundation of our Royal Academy
with the delivery of these inaugural discourses by Sir Joshua Reynolds,
on the opening of the schools, and at the first annual meetings for the
distribution of its prizes. They laid down principles of art from the
point of view of a man of genius who had made his power felt, and with
the clear good sense which is the foundation of all work that looks
upward and may hope to live. The truths here expressed concerning Art
may, with slight adjustment of the way of thought, be applied to
Literature or to any exercise of the best powers of mind for shaping the
delights that raise us to the larger sense of life. In his separation of
the utterance of whole truths from insistance upon accidents of detail,
Reynolds was right, because he guarded the expression of his view with
careful definitions of its limits. In the same way Boileau was right, as
a critic of Literature, in demanding everywhere good sense, in condemning
the paste brilliants of a style then in decay, and fixing attention upon
the masterly simplicity of Roman poets in the time of Augustus. Critics
by rule of thumb reduced the principles clearly defined by Boileau to a
dull convention, against which there came in course of time a strong
reaction. In like manner the teaching of Reynolds was applied by dull
men to much vague and conventional generalisation in the name of dignity.
Nevertheless, Reynolds taught essential truths of Art. The principles
laid down by him will never fail to give strength to the right artist, or
true guidance towards the appreciation of good art, though here and there
we may not wholly assent to some passing application of them, where the
difference may be great between a fashion of thought in his time and in
ours. A righteous enforcement of exact truth in our day has led many
into a readiness to appreciate more really the minute imitation of a
satin dress, or a red herring, than the noblest figure in the best of
Raffaelle's cartoons. Much good should come of the diffusion of this
wise little book.

Joshua Reynolds was born on the 15th of July, 1723, the son of a
clergyman and schoolmaster, at Plympton in Devonshire. His bent for Art
was clear and strong from his childhood. In 1741 at the age of nineteen,
he began study, and studied for two yours in London under Thomas Hudson,
a successful portrait painter. Then he went back to Devonshire and
painted portraits, aided for some time in his education by attention to
the work of William Gandy of Exeter. When twenty-six years old, in May,
1749, Reynolds was taken away by Captain Keppel to the Mediterranean, and
brought into contact with the works of the great painters of Italy. He
stayed two years in Rome, and in accordance with the principles
afterwards laid down in these lectures, he refused, when in Rome,
commissions for copying, and gave his mind to minute observation of the
art of the great masters by whose works he was surrounded. He spent two
months in Florence, six weeks in Venice, a few days in Bologna and Parma.
"If," he said, "I had never seen any of the fine works of Correggio, I
should never, perhaps, have remarked in Nature the expression which I
find in one of his pieces; or if I had remarked it, I might have thought
it too difficult, or perhaps impossible to execute."

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