Tuesday 3 June 2014

Sir Joshua Reynolds and The Age of Innocence

I have been spending a lot of time of late perusing artworks of the long 18th century, soaking up inspiration for my work in progress and losing myself in the beautiful imagery and skill of the era. Today I wanted to focus on a fancy picture by my favourite artist, Sir Joshua Reynolds. It is a deceptively simple portrait of an unknown child, and a work that I find most appealing.

The Age of Innocence by Sir Joshua Reynold
The Age of Innocence by Sir Joshua Reynolds

The painting is known as The Age of Innocence today, though this is not the title Reynolds gave it. Instead, this name was taken from an engraving that was made of the original work in 1794. So little is known about the work that it remains a wonderful mystery; it is believed that Reynolds make the study at some time between 1785 and 1788 and in 1785, The Morning Herald made mention of an exhibition at the Royal Academy which would feature a painting of an infant girl by Joshua Reynolds; this work was entitled A Little Girl and it is likely that these two are one and the same.
A Strawberry Girl by Sir Joshua Reynold
A Strawberry Girl by Sir Joshua Reynolds

The artwork that we see in the Tate today has been painted over an earlier work entitled A Strawberry Girl and was an instant and much copied, engraved and purchased hit. The identity of the little girl in the painting is unknown but it has been suggested that she might be Theophila Gwatkin, the artist's young niece who died in 1844 at the age of 62. Other identities have also been suggested but these require the painting to have been completed significantly earlier than is believed to be the case.

Miss Theophila Gwatkin as Simplicity by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1785
Miss Theophila Gwatkin as Simplicity by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1785

There is an appealing simplicity about the image that, contrasted to our study yesterday, shows a female subject at the very start of her life. She has yet to experience the tribulations of like that left Queen Charlotte so rueful in her own portrait. Instead she is settled barefoot in a framing landscape, simply dressed and with no accessories or adornments beyond a simple bow in her hair. For this little girl life has barely begun; we can only share this childhood moment and wonder at what became of her.


Lindsay said...

Such a sweet innocence she has which makes the painting dynamically strong

Catherine Curzon said...

I couldn't agree more; it's so simple yet so powerful!

Unknown said...

She gives the impression of watching someone or something off-stage, as it were, to the right. What it is, we can only wonder.

Arnie Perlstein said...

Although the Reynolds fancy picture you like is not disturbing, several of his fancy pictures, especially the ones he painted especailly for his debauched patron, the 3rd Duke of Dorset, to hang at Knole in Kent, are unbelievably disturbing:


Look at "Cupid as Link Boy", read my blog about it, and tell me what you think!

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Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you for visiting and for your comment; I am going to read your blog this afternoon, really looking forward to it!

Catherine Curzon said...

She does, very intently too!

Brian Nolan said...

Any idea of what a signed numbered print might be worth?

Catherine Curzon said...

I don't, I'm afraid but a reputable auction house or expert should hopefully be able to help you out. Do come back and let us know!

Anonymous said...

I have these two paintings and was wondering how much there worth. Age of innocence had since 1950s so I'm sure there pretty old.

Anonymous said...

I came across this beautiful painting in a thrift shop where I live it has an auction stamp on the back of the frame but there's no artists signature I wonder know how you tell if it is from the 1785 i. 9dor if it's from the 1900s do you know how to tell the difference

Anonymous said...

Many years ago I bought a print, I think, framed and searched long for the artist thinking it was Joshua Reynold's after seeing other works by him.

Still admiring the print, damaged some, still admired, it was like finding a lost silver dollar seeing it here.
Thanks for the info.