SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS<< Previous page
THE words written by Reynolds on the established method of his maturity have already been quoted. It was his habit at one period to jot down in Italian the colours, mediums, and processes of which he made use, in each successive portrait, notes which are to be found in Eastlake's ,,Materials." He was a great experimentalist, and methodically made these memoranda, eventually to confine himself to the combinations which furnished him with the best results. So we may take it that when he refers to his " established method," with it his best work was accomplished. Wax, I believe, is not mentioned at the time, but a solution of it, dissolved in spike oil or turpentine, was a favourite medium about which he told an amateur friend, asking him at the same time not to tell any one. The amateur tried the vehicle, and complained that it cracked. Reynolds's only answer was, " All good pictures crack." Now you will understand how it is that " The Age of Innocence " and many others that are of a thick pasty consistence have cracked : but not all of them ; much depended on the nature of the other oils and varnishes used with the wax.
There is always danger of pictures suffering that are done with a thick paste of colour entirely concealing the grain of the canvas.
His heavy use of bitumen is also responsible for other fissures. Bitumen is liquefied when heated by the sun. A story is told how a Reynolds picture with much bitumen, which had been exposed to the sun, was found with the eyes run down into the cheeks of the portrait. The only cure for this displacement was to leave the picture in the sun, and reverse it, till those features found a resting-place in their sockets again.'
Reynolds made many copies of the Venetian, Flemish, Dutch, and Spanish works, and embodied in his own painting what he admired in their methods ; and he was critical enough also to know what to avoid. His " gilded " final colouring is doubtless inspired by Titian and Rembrandt ; his more silvery schemes, such as the " Two Gentlemen," by Velazquez. But for all his researches into the practices of other men, he is very personal, and there is no mistaking him for the masters from whom he did not disdain to learn.
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