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Page last updated at 15:24 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009
City showcases Reynolds' genius
By Jemima Laing
BBC Devon


Watch an animation about Sir Joshua Reynolds made by the Young Explainers for the BBC's Big Screen in Plymouth

Plymouth is paying tribute to one of its most famous sons, Sir Joshua Reynolds, with the biggest show of his work outside London.

It is also the biggest show Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery has staged in 15 years.

Judith Robinson, the museum's exhibitions officer, is thrilled with how the exhibition has turned out.

It is the result of more than three years' work to secure the 100 paintings and 50 objects which make up the show.

"This is really a new look at Reynolds," said Judith.

Self Portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Self Portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds c.1772/3

"We have borrowed from far and wide, we have two paintings from Paris and even one from the Queen herself.

"There are many paintings that have never been seen in the city, it's the result of a great deal of work by lots of people.

"We have been working in partnership with the University of Plymouth's Art History Department and the exhibition is also accompanied by a very scholarly publication about Reynolds."

It's an amazing collection of excellent paintings
Judith Robinson

Reynolds was born in Plympton, the youngest of seven sons born to the Reverend Samuel Reynolds, a local grammar school master, and his wife Theophilia.

By 1745 he was running his own studio in Plymouth Dock - the area of the city now known as Devonport.

He painted the portraits of many senior ranking Naval officers and began to forge relationships with local landed gentry including the Parkers of Saltram House, Devon; The Eliots of St Germans, Cornwall; the Edgcumbes of Mount Edgcumbe, Cornwall and the Poles of Antony House, Cornwall.

He moved to London and saw the opportunities in the growing 18th century appetite for portraiture, individuals were beginning to use portraits to bolster their public image and fame.

Mrs Orchard - on loan from Hartland Abbey
Judith's favourite: Mrs Orchard - on loan from Hartland Abbey

And by making connections with some of the key figures of his time he began to weave himself into the fabric of public life.

The exhibition fills two of the museum's first floor galleries which have been specially repainted in an 18th century shade of grey.

And as well as many of his works painted throughout his career a number of masterpieces which were in Reynolds' own collection are also on display.

His collecting of other artists' pieces is a little-known aspect of his life which has been researched in detail especially for this exhibition.

So does Judith have a favourite among the paintings and personal items on show?

"Well it's very hard to choose, it's an amazing collection of excellent paintings which you would normally have to go the best venue in London to see.

"But I do like the painting of Mrs Orchard from a private collection at Hartland Abbey from north Devon and a special sketchbook which Reynolds carried with him on his travels," said Judith.

"It feels very personal to him and it's very special."

Sir Joshua Reynolds: The Acquisition of Genius
Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery
21 November 2009 to 20 February 2010

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