The " Portraits of Two Gentlemen " is one of his best works here, done on a canvas covered entirely with the grey of its background, an idea evidently borrowed from Velazquez ; for, like the " Admiral Pulido-Pareja," the figures are superposed on its dry surface. In most modern portraits the background is painted wet with the head, but Sir Joshua managed to do more than a hundred in a year, and would find it facilitate matters to have some of his grounds nearly completed for him except for a final warming glaze. The more elaborate backgrounds were done by assistants, the master superintending and completing them while they were still wet, or by glazes and retouchings when dry.
The breadth and oneness in these two heads is admirable, and there are no small accents to detract from their simplicity.
The hair of the near man, the better of the two, is thinly suggested on the grey ground ; the flesh and hands are first prepared with a cool monochrome, and then scumbled and glazed.
The foreshortened hand against the black satin is a real pleasure to the craftsman, as is also the silveriness of the harmony. There is a frankness and freshness about this work rarely found in his pictures, many of which he juggled with, rubbing asphaltum and other glazes into them, so that now little light remains. Examples of this we have in a small lost profile at the National Gallery, " The Banished Lord," and in the " Snake in the Grass " with its heavy accidental shadows, in which the breast of the semi-nude figure is fine in colour and modelling. No doubt by these means he achieved a rich colour-quality ; but they are dangerous, and more often than not leave destruction in their wake.
The " Admiral Keppel," painted with wax as a medium, has been so enriched, but is in good condition. The tone of the head against the splash of white on the neckcloth has the substance that such tonality gives. Its apparent brilliancy is heightened by the cast shadow on the crimson coat and the cloud of Antwerp blue for a background. It is finely drawn and boldly handled.
SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS
PORTRAITS OF TWO GENTLEMEN
The bigly seen and broadly handled head of the man in black should help the, student to realise and distinguish essentials from non-essentials in painting.
There is little else but Indian red and black in the flesh of " Lord Heathfield," which is altogether a splendid performance, both in its modelling and telling character : a dignified old soldier." The Countess of Albemarle " is but a slightly tinted monochrome like many of his portraits. No doubt the black tendency of the greys prompted him to force the colour in his other pictures. His black and blue under-painting helped the flesh greys, but when overdone destroyed the glow that Rubens held so dear." The Age of Innocence " has all the charm of Reynolds's child pictures, and in spite of its fissures is simplicity itself. Only a strong concentrated light imparts such breadth, and only a " dilated " eye can seize it. If we have here the solidity that wax establishes, we must take the defects of the qualities of wax and be grateful.