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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Sir Joshua Reynolds, one of the pioneers in British art, helped to define different concepts for British painting and across the Western world. He was a renowned intellectual who enjoyed socializing in elite social circles of London. He, however, received most recognition for his portraits.

Techniques Used

The defining characteristics and materials that Reynolds used in his drawings were necessary for flesh tones. To achieve his desired color, Reynolds laid carmine on various white tones. The second layer was the orpiment, and finally, he applied the blue-black and white. Reynolds preferred to get the mixtures on his palettes as close to his sitter’s real complexion as he could.

Reynolds' mixing techniques have been legendary. Unlike previous centuries when paints were limited and expensive to obtain, the 18th century made them more available to artists. According to Reynolds, blatantly mixing the colors affected their natural blending. He, therefore, opted to layer the colors when they were still fresh and wet.

Planning and Materials Used

Joshua Reynolds used various methods and techniques in his drawings to make his artwork a masterpiece. Reynolds specialized in many historical works that denote the modern-day gentry as some of the best classical subjects. For flesh tones, he used black, blue-black, carmine, lake, orpiment, white, ultramarine, yellow ochre, and varnish. Reynolds’ brushwork was smooth and never heavily applied on the canvas. His strokes were long, hard, and broad. He did not completely blend his brushwork in the paintings. Thus, it made them very clear and bold.

Individual Artworks

Some of the best artworks of Joshua Reynolds overview the major creative periods of his paintings. The drawings highlight the greatest achievements by Reynolds himself and depict him as a true master of his work. Some of the best paintings of Joshua Reynolds include:

  • Self-portrait shading the Eyes (c.1747-49)
  • Miss Kitty Fisher (1759)
  • Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy (1761)
  • The Strawberry Girl (1773)
  • Self-portrait as a Deaf Man (1775)
  • St John the Baptist in the Wilderness (1776)

Joshua Reynolds produced some of the best drawings known to date. The ones mentioned above are only a few of that extension.

What Types of Things Did He Draw?

Alongside full-length portraits, Reynolds also painted large numbers of works. By the 1750s, Reynolds would receive five to six sitters a day. By the early 1760s, he commanded a fee of 80 guineas for full-length portraits and upped this to 100 guineas in 1764 for the portrait of Lord Burghersh. He was also recognized for the drawings of children, where he emphasized the natural grace and innocence of children as he depicted them. His portrait, Age of Innocence, is known for being the best character study of a child.

Artists and Paintings Related to The Work of Joshua Reynolds

By studying ancient and Italian Renaissance art, Reynolds learned to use the work of Rubens, Van Dyck, and Rembrandt. Through these artists’ drawings, he brought an even greater variety and dignity of painting to British portraiture.

Who Inspired Him, Or Were Inspired by Him?

Mary Palmer, one of Reynolds' sisters and author of Devonshire Dialogue, loved to draw. Her fondness to draw is said to have had much influence on Reynolds' painting career from childhood. As a boy, he was also influenced by Zachariah Mudge, whose philosophies stayed with him all his life. Most of his extracts were also inspired by Marcus Antonius, Joseph Addison, John Milton, Richard Steele, Alexander Pope, and John Dryden. However, the work that the most impact on him was Jonathan Richardson’s An Essay on the Theory of Painting.


Reynolds has had a significant impact on educational practices and theories within the art world. His series of Discoveries in Art are in print to date and have been widely translated and heavily influenced artists like JMW Turner.