The Wallace Collection

Exhibitions & Displays

Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint

Thursday 12th March, 2015 - Sunday 7th June, 2015

Price: Admission Free

"These are great paintings. Reynolds is not staid at all. He's the portraitist of the Enlightenment, a daring artist who captured a daring age"
The Guardian

"If his reputation has deteriorated a pace with his materials, then this is a show to restore it"
The Times

The Telegraph

Time Out

Join us for an exhibition that provides a fresh perspective on a towering figure of British painting.

Joshua Reynolds is widely regarded as one of the greatest portraitists of the 18th century. Celebrated for capturing the leading figures and glitterati of his day, he also helped establish a distinctive British school of painting. However, Reynolds’s reputation as an ‘establishment’ artist masks his unquenchable thirst for innovation and his experimental approach to the practice and materials of painting.    

This exhibition offers a snapshot of Joshua Reynolds’s creative process, and reveals discoveries made during a four-year research project into the outstanding collection of his works at the Wallace Collection. We have selected not only significant portraits but lesser known ‘fancy pictures’ and a rare history painting, all of which will be shown side by side. Among the works on display will be famous pictures such as Nelly O’Brien, Mrs Abington as Miss Prue and Reynolds’s own Self Portrait Shading the Eyes.

By focusing on the themes of experimentation and innovation, we trace Reynolds’s working practice in two ways: on the material level, through his use of pigments and media; and on a conceptual level, through his development of composition and narrative.  What emerges is a vision of Reynolds as a pioneering painter, highly original in his approaches to pictorial composition. This drive to innovation is exemplified in his ambitious allusions to the great masters of the past, such as Titian and Rembrandt and his obsessive tendency to rework and revise his images as he painted.  

Reynolds’s portraits not only depicted the colourful society in which he lived, ranging from the actress Mrs Abington, the scandalous Kitty Fisher and the ‘social climber’ Mrs Nesbitt, but were often the product of a collaborative relationship between artist and sitter. Reynolds explored the possibilities of performance and role play with the sitters, while at the same time drawing on their colourful biographies to ‘personalise’ their portraiture.   

Spanning most of Reynolds’s career, this exhibition demonstrates the sheer diversity of his artistic production and provides an eloquent and surprising insight into the creative processes of this remarkable and immensely prolific British artist.

Discover More

He inspired generations of artists but how well we really know Joshua Reynolds? Before you visit, take a look at our blog written by exhibition co-curator professor Mark Hallett, Director of Studies at the Paul Mellon Centre.

We joined forces with the Royal Academy, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery to lead a Twitter Tour to explore Reynolds's life, sitters and painting practises to re-establish Reynolds as a household name once more. The Londonist mapped Reynolds in London and other UK and international museums joined in, tweeting their Joshua Reynolds portraits and connections. Follow the discussion below and click here to see the Londonist map.



Inspired by our exhibition, the Royal Academy have been delving into the archives to learn more about their founding president. Click here to find out what they discovered.

Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint
Joshua Reynolds, Mrs Mary Robinson, 1783 - 1784.

Press clippings and media for this exhibition.

Joshua Reynolds: the overlooked master who revolutionised British art...the portraitist of the Enlightenment, a daring artist who captured a daring age

Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

If his reputation has deteriorated a pace with his materials, then this is a show to restore it

Rachel Campbell-Johnston

(This) exhibition shows English portraitist Joshua Reynolds to be a great experimentalist ... and a showman to boot

Claudia Pritchard, The Independent