Matthew Hunter is Assistant Professor in the Department of Art History & Communication Studies, McGill University, Montréal, and author of Wicked intelligence: visual art and the science of experiment in Restoration London (2013).
Beeswax, spermaceti extract, linseed oil, egg, resin and bitumen: just a sample of the materials discovered by modern conservators in the paint-film of pictures painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92), first President of the Royal Academy of Arts and Enlightenment Britain’s leading artist. Reynolds’s fascination with “nostrums” has long bedevilled interpreters. Trained in a tradition of sound pictorial craftsmanship and promoting timeless classicism in his famous Discourses of Art, why would Reynolds have routinely created unstable paint preparations that he knew would crack, discolour or otherwise decay?
Contemporaries like Joseph Farington claimed that the President's drive for knowledge of his art “caused him to make experiments in using his colours, although he had not acquired … sufficient chemical knowledge to enable him to judge of the result.” Looking ahead to the Wallace Collection’s 2015 exhibition Reynolds: Experiments in Paint, this lecture proposes that we should think again about Reynolds’s experiments, his relations to the Royal Society and what he called the “nice chymistry” at the heart of his artistic project.
Attending this event
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