Sir Joshua Reynolds

Rev. William Robertson, 1721 - 1793. Historian. Principal of Edinburgh University (1772)

About this artwork

Minister, Historiographer Royal in Scotland, and Principal of the University of Edinburgh, Robertson was famous for his historical writing, particularly his ‘History of Scotland’, published in 1759. His ‘History of Charles V’, available from 1769, was praised by two giants of Enlightenment thought, the French philosopher Voltaire and the historian Gibbon. Robertson was also one of the first to publish on the history of the Americas. Eight years after his death, his biographer, Dugald Stewart, remarked on his vigorous, intelligent appearance and commented that this portrait was “an admirable likeness; although the colours were ‘already much faded’” – a criticism often levelled at Reynolds’ painting technique.

  • title: Rev. William Robertson, 1721 - 1793. Historian. Principal of Edinburgh University
  • accession number: PG 1393
  • artist: Sir Joshua ReynoldsEnglish (1723 - 1792)
  • depicted: Rev. William Robertson
  • gallery: In Storage
  • object type: Painting
  • subject: Education
  • materials: Oil on canvas
  • date created: 1772
  • measurements: 127.50 x 102.10 cm (framed: 152.20 x 126.70 x 7.80 cm)
  • credit line: Purchased 1939
  • photographer: Antonia Reeve

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.