Hired to Depress: A Digital Scholarly Edition of William Blake's Annotations to Sir Joshua Reynolds' Discourses

Appearance and character

Reynolds was about 5 feet 6 inches tall, with ruddy, rounded facial features. He was partially deaf, which caused him in later life to affect a large silver ear-trumpet. He blamed the affliction upon a chill caught in the Sistine Chapel, although it was probably hereditary, as was his slight harelip. ‘His pronunciation’, recalled a female acquaintance, ‘was tinctured with the accent of Devonshire; his features coarse, his outward appearance slovenly’ (C. Knight, Autobiography, ed. J. W. Kate, 1861, 1.9). Although he could, when occasion demanded, dress smartly, he preferred to assume a casual demeanour, taking snuff while he painted, and often spilling it down his waistcoat. Among friends, of whom he had many of both sexes, Reynolds was admired for his generosity, even temper, and capacity for listening. His dinner parties were notorious for their air of anarchic bonhomie, Reynolds invariably inviting far more guests than could be accommodated at his table. He was addicted to card games and was an incorrigible gambler. As a fellow artist observed: ‘If He went into a Company where there was a Pharo table, or any game of chance, He generally left behind him whatever money He had abt. him’ (Farington, Diary, 2.307). Yet in private Reynolds could be cynical and aloof, particularly towards his pupils and his younger sister, Fanny, who acted as his housekeeper during his middle years.

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