January’s talk will focus on Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds, artistic giants and fierce rivals. Reynolds, a highly popular portrait painter, enjoyed constant interaction with the wealthy and the famous, and in such demand that he normally just did the face with his workshop finishing the picture. He was a founder and first president of the RA, knighted by George III in 1769 and appointed Court Painter in 1784, much to Gainsborough’s chagrin. (The appointment did not make Reynolds happy: he wrote: “If I had known what a shabby miserable place it is, I would not have asked for it…. the Kings Rat catcher I believe is a better place”
Thomas Gainsborough was the Royal Family’s favourite painter. In 1780, he painted portraits of King George III and his queen and afterwards received many royal commissions. In time Gainsborough surpassed Reynolds to become the dominant British portraitist of the second half of the 18th century.