The number of Reynolds's portraits of ladies has never been given, probably it cannot be ascertained with precision; it is beyond all question marvellous, but not less so is the variety of the attitudes in which he placed the sitters, that of the ideas he expressed, and of the accessories with which they are surrounded; to this end, and to show how successfully he fitted things together, background and figure, compare the portrait of Elizabeth Hamilton, Countess of Derby splendidly engraved by W. Dickinson, with that of Lady Betty Delmé. It is the same everywhere.

We believe that Reynolds, of that English school of portrait-painters of which he was the founder, was the happiest in introducing backgrounds to his works; to him we are for the most part indebted for that aptitude of one to the other which has so great an effect in putting the eye and mind of the observer into harmonious relationship with what may be called the motive of the portrait, which, indeed, elevates a mere likeness to the character of a picture, and affords a charming field for the display of art in pathos, which is too often neglected, if not utterly ignored, by Reynolds's successors. We think he exhibited more of this valuable characteristic than any other contemporary artist. Lawrence aimed at it, but with effect only commensurate to his success in painting. Of old, as before the Seventeenth Century in Germany and Italy, the art of landscape-painting per se was inefficiently cultivated, at least expressed with irregularity, although occasionally with force enough to show that the pathos as well as the beauty of nature were by no means unappreciated or neglected to anything like the extent which has been commonly represented by writers on Art. Reynolds probably took the hint, as he did many others of the kind, from Vandyck, and gave apt backgrounds to his figures: between these painters no one did much, or even well in the pathetic part of the achievement. Since Reynolds, none have approached him in success. It will be understood that the object of these remarks is not to suggest for the reader's consideration who painted the best landscape backgrounds as landscapes, but who most happily adapted them to his more important themes. We believe Reynolds did so, and will conclude our remarks by another example. The landscape in the distance of The Age of Innocence is as thoroughly in keeping with the subject as it can be: thus here are fields easy to traverse, a few village elms, and just seen above their tops the summits of habitations,—the hint is thus given that the child, all innocent as she is, has not gone far from home, or out of sight of the household to which she belongs....

Portrait of Lady Cockburn and her Children. Reynolds.

Portrait of Lady Cockburn and her Children.

It has been alleged that Reynolds never, or rarely painted the landscape backgrounds to his pictures, and that they were the work of Peter Toms, R.A., one of his ablest assistants, or of others who were more potent with that branch of Art than the President himself.... It is hard to deny to the mind which conceived the ruling idea of such pictures that honour which is assuredly due to some one, and to whom more probably than to the painter of the faces and designer of the attitudes, which are in such perfect harmony with the subordinate elements about them as to be completed only when the alliance is made. Without this alliance, this harmony of parts, half the significance of many of Reynolds's pictures is obscured. When we have noted this the result is at least instructive, if not convincing, that one mind designed, if one hand did not invariably execute, the whole of any important portrait by our subject.

Our own belief is, that whenever the landscapes or other accessories of his productions are essential to the idea expressed by the work as a whole, then undoubtedly Reynolds wrought these minor parts almost wholly, if not entirely, with his own brushes.

Few, if any, of Reynolds's family groups equals in beauty, variety, and spirit, the famous Cornelia and her Children, or rather Lady Cockburn and her three Infants,—a work so charming, that we can well conceive the feelings of the Royal Academicians of 1774, that long-past time, when it was brought to be hung in the Exhibition, and received with clapping of hands, as men applaud a successful musical performance, or the fine reading of a poem. Every Royal Academician then present—the scene must have been a very curious one—stepped forward, and in this manner saluted the work of the President; they did so, not because it was his, but on account of its charming qualities. Conceive the painters, each in his swallow-tailed coat, his ruffles and broad cuffs, his knee-breeches, buckles, long waistcoat, and the rest of his garments of those days, thus uniting in one acclaim. The reader may judge whether or not such applause was deserved by the picture, which tells its own story. The parrot in the background was occasionally used by Reynolds; see the portrait of Elizabeth, Countess of Derby, and the engraving from it by W. Dickinson.29 It has been said that the only example of Reynolds's practice in signing pictures on the border of the robes of his sitters appears in Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse; nevertheless, this picture of Cornelia shows at least one exception to that asserted rule. The border of Lady Cockburn's dress in the original is inscribed in a similar manner thus:—"1775, Reynolds pinxit." The picture was begun in 1773, and is now in the possession of Sir James Hamilton, of Portman Square, who married the daughter of General Sir James Cockburn, one of the boys in the picture. It is noteworthy that all these children successively inherited the baronetcy; one of them—the boy who looks over his mother's shoulder—was Admiral Sir George Cockburn, Bart., on board whose ship, the Northumberland, Napoleon was conveyed to St. Helena. Sir James, the eldest brother, was afterwards seventh baronet; Sir William, the third brother, was eighth baronet of the name, was Dean of York, and married a daughter of Sir R. Peel. The lady was Augusta Anne, daughter of the Rev. Frances Ascough, D.D., Dean of Bristol, married in 1769, the second wife of Sir James Cockburn, sixth baronet of Langton, in the county of Berwick, M.P. She was niece of Lord Lyttleton. For this picture in March, 1774, Reynolds received £183 15s. This was probably the whole price, and for a work of no great size, but wealthy in matter, the amount was small indeed. It includes four portraits. After comparison of the facts that the engravings, by C.W. Wilkin, in stipple, and by S.W. Reynolds, mezzotint, are dated, on the robe as aforesaid, "1775," and its exhibition in 1774, the year in which it was paid for, we may guess that the signature and date were added by the painter after exhibiting it, and probably while he worked on it, with the advantage of having compared the painting with others in the Royal Academy. The landscape recalls that glimpse of halcyon country of which we caught sight in The Infant Academy—its trees, its glowing sky, are equally adaptable to both subjects. The picture was exhibited at the British Institution in 1843, and was then the property of Sir James Cockburn, Bart., whose portrait it contains.

English Children as painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds (London, 1867).


29 Rather we should say, see the engraving only. The picture is one of the very few prime works by Reynolds which has disappeared without records of its loss.