About this artwork

Sir William was born in Edinburgh and served an apprenticeship with the banking firm Coutts. He derived considerable wealth from his career as an influential banker and made donations to charitable institutions and individuals in Edinburgh. He is shown wearing the order of the baronetcy of Nova Scotia, a title inherited from his father and still worn by the Forbes descendents today. Among his friends were the writers Sir Walter Scott and Samuel Johnson, the philosopher Edmund Burke and Sir Joshua Reynolds, who painted this portrait.

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.