The Golden Age of Portraiture: Reynolds and Gainsborough

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Reynolds – romance, drama, sophistication, grace, celebrity. Taking wholesale inspiration from Van Dyck and from the sculpture of classical antiquity, Reynold’s invention of the “Grand Manner” style of portraiture catapulted the genre into a coveted expression of wealth and status. Gainsborough took what he wanted from Reynolds, and then liberated his faces with extraordinary brushwork. As Reynold’s said “those odd scratches and marks….by a kind of magic…assumes form” – it is this magic that allow Gainsborough’s portraits to shimmer, sparkle, burst with a freshness and vivacity not seen anywhere else in the history of art. These two extraordinary painters – highly competitive with each other – created the Golden Age of portraiture in Britain. No longer the preserve of royalty, the upper classes had entered a new era of prosperity and portraits of oneself or one’s ancestors became a critical symbol of class and sophistication.

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