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Sir Joshua Reynolds, one of the most successful artists of the 18th century, painted at least 27 self-portraits in the course of his career. This was his penultimate self-portrait, completed in 1788 when he was around 65. Numerous versions of this composition survive; this is a very good version of about the same date, likely painted by the artist and his studio assistants. Reynolds’ friend and biographer Edmond Malone recalled how the self-portrait was ‘extremely like him and exhibits him exactly as he appeared in his latter days’.
During the latter years of Reynolds’ life, he experienced a dramatic deterioration of his sight and hearing. While in Rome, he contracted a severe cold which left him partially deaf. Afterwards, he sought the assistance of an ear trumpet that he can be seen holding in Zoffany’s 'The Academicians of the Royal Academy 1771–72'. By 1783, Reynolds had begun wearing glasses after suffering a stroke the previous year, which caused inflammation in his eyes. Later, in 1789 he experienced sudden blindness in one eye and by January 1791 he had lost almost the entirety of his sight. Though his spectacles may hint towards physical frailty, the artist undoubtedly still possesses a great deal of vivacity and artistic excellence.
oil on canvas
H 76.2 x W 63.5 cm
Iveagh Bequest, 1929