About this artwork

Ferguson is a major figure of the Scottish Enlightenment. A professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, his activities also included farming, diplomacy, mathematics and the church (as an army chaplain). This portrait was hanging in Ferguson's house in Edinburgh when the young Walter Scott and the poet Robert Burns were entertained there in the winter of 1786, the only time the two great writers ever met.

Sir Joshua Reynolds

Sir Joshua Reynolds

Reynolds was born in Plympton, Devon, the son of a headmaster. He was apprenticed to the London portrait painter, Thomas Hudson, in 1740. In 1749 he went to Italy, spending two years in Rome. On his return, in 1753, he set up a studio in London. Reynolds developed a portrait style which attempted to marry the sitter's need for a fashionable likeness with the complexity of traditional religious and historical painting. His compositions are usually interesting but his technique was often unsound, and many of his pictures have deteriorated badly. He was a founding member of the Royal Academy of Arts and its first president, a position of huge influence which Reynolds used to set the future course of British art.