In the city of Florence, Italy, there is a famous gallery of portraits unlike any other collection of pictures in the world. It consists of the portraits of artists, painted by their own hands, and includes the most celebrated painters of all nations, from the fifteenth century to the present time. Here may be seen the portraits of Velasquez, Titian, Tintoretto, Rembrandt,—the world's greatest portrait painters,—and in the same splendid company hangs the portrait of Reynolds, reproduced in our frontispiece. He painted it in 1776 for the special purpose of sending it to Florence at the request of the Imperial Academy of that city, of which he had just been elected a member.

As we have seen in our study of the Angels' Heads, a single portrait can show us only one side of the sitter's character. This portrait of Reynolds, painted as a condition of membership in a society of artists, and for a gallery of artists' portraits, was intended chiefly to show the artistic side of his nature. The pose itself at once suggests the artist. The expression of the mobile face is that of a painter engaged at his easel, turning a searching glance upon the object he is painting. In short, it is a sort of official portrait, introducing the new member to his associates in the Imperial Academy.

The artist wears the Oxford cap and gown, to which he is entitled, by virtue of the honorary degree of D. C. L., conferred upon him by the University of Oxford. In his hand he carries a roll of manuscript, presumably one of his lectures before the Royal Academy. Both the roll and the costume are, as it were, insignia of his English honors. A Latin inscription on the back of the portrait, written by the painter's own hand, enumerates the several distinctions which are his.

Reynolds might, indeed, be pardoned the pride with which he reviewed his career. From somewhat humble beginnings he had now made his way to the foremost place in his profession. He was born at a time when art was in a very low state in England, and there were no advantages for the study of painting. His only instruction was under an inferior portrait painter named Hudson, with whom he served as apprentice about two years.

His real art training was during three years of travel in Italy. There he examined and studied the works of the greatest masters of the past, and returned to England with altogether new ideals. Setting up a studio in London, he soon gained an immense popularity. When the Royal Academy was founded, in 1768, he became the first president, and at the same time the honor of knighthood was conferred upon him. Other artists now rose to prominence, but he still held the supremacy.

The painter's popularity depended by no means on his artistic talents alone; his opinions were worth hearing on many subjects. He was fond of books and literary discussions, and his friendship was valued by such men of intellect as Johnson, Goldsmith, Burke, and others of that charmed circle making the Literary Club. He had a genial, kindly nature, and his manners were exquisitely courteous. Thackeray once wrote that "of all the polite men of that age, Joshua Reynolds was the finest gentleman." He was a member of several clubs, was fond of society, and was a welcome guest in many of the best houses in London. He himself entertained with generous hospitality, and gathered about his table some of the brightest people of his time.

His intimate friend, Edmund Malone, described him as a man "rather under the middle size, of a florid complexion, and a lively and pleasing aspect; well made, and extremely active. His appearance at first sight impressed the spectator with the idea of a well-born and well-bred English gentleman. With an uncommon equability of temper, which, however, never degenerated into insipidity or apathy, he possessed a constant flow of spirits which rendered him at all times a most pleasing companion.... He appeared to me the happiest man I have ever known."

Through many years Reynolds was very deaf, and was obliged to use an ear trumpet to aid him in general conversation. In later years he also wore spectacles, so that we always picture him in his advancing life with trumpet and glasses. His habit of taking great quantities of snuff was one which gave occasion to many jokes among his friends.

Numerous poetic tributes were written by his admirers, describing more or less rhetorically his qualities as a man and an artist. There is one bit of verse by Goldsmith (1770), in a comic vein, and in the form of an epitaph, which delineates very cleverly the real character of the man:—

"Here Reynolds is laid, and to tell you my mind,
He has not left a better or wiser behind;
His pencil was striking, resistless and grand,
His manners were gentle, complying, and bland;
Still born to improve us in every part,
His pencil, our faces, his manners, our heart:
To coxcombs averse, yet most civilly steering,
When they judged without skill, he was still hard of hearing;
When they talked of their Raffaelles, Correggios, and stuff,
He shifted his trumpet, and only took snuff!"