Tate Britain  Level 2
26 May – 18 September 2005

Tate is delighted to announce that Sir Joshua Reynolds’ celebrated Portrait of Omai will be one of the important loans to Tate Britain’s exhibition Joshua Reynolds: The Creation of Celebrity. The work, which remains in a private collection, will be among the highlights of the exhibition which opens at Tate Britain on 26 May.

Sir Joshua Reynolds
Portrait of Omai c.1776
Oil on canvas, 236 x 145.5
Photograph by courtesy of Sotheby’s Picture Library, London

During his lifetime Joshua Reynolds was among the most celebrated artists in the Western world. He was a brilliant portraitist but also an impresario, a skilled networker, and a master of spin. Through his paintings, his friendships and his manipulation of the media, Reynolds was – as this exhibition will reveal – a driving force in the creation of the modern-day cult of the celebrity.

This will be the first ever exhibition dedicated to Joshua Reynolds at Tate. Rather than providing a general survey of Reynolds’s art, this show will be the first monographic exhibition to identify and focus on a key aspect of Reynolds’s achievement, and set it within the social, political and cultural context of the artist’s times.

The exhibition will bring together a selection of the greatest portraits by Reynolds, many of them depicting the most famous men and women of the eighteenth century, such as the writer Samuel Johnson, the actress Mrs Siddons, the political philosopher Edmund Burke and the actor David Garrick, as well as courtesans, aristocrats and military leaders. Collectively, they represented the cream of British society of the era. But Reynolds did not simply paint these individuals. He befriended them, brought them into contact with one another, shaped their public images, and massaged their egos.

As well as Reynolds’ paintings, the exhibition will include prints, caricatures, and sculpture. Consisting of eight sections, the exhibition will cover each type of character painted by Reynolds within the context of fame and celebrity. One room is dedicated to Reynolds seminal self-portraits, some twenty-seven different works painted over a period of nearly half a century. He used them to maintain his celebrity status, depicting himself as artist, academic, Knight, even as a startled shepherd in the Nativity. Other sections look at Reynolds’ inner circle of friends who together constituted the most famous figures of the age; Reynolds’ many memorable images of the most beautiful, talented and desirable women in Georgian society; and his compelling paintings of British military and naval heroes.

The exhibition is curated by Martin Postle, Tate Curator, and it will comprise about ninety works, including many large-scale paintings from public and private collections in the UK, the USA and Europe. Tate Publishing’s illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition. Joshua Reynolds: The Creation of Celebrity was conceived by Tate but begins at Ferrara Arte, Bologna (12 Feb - 1 May 2005).

Tate Director Nicholas Serota said: ’ We are delighted that visitors to Tate Britain will be able to view this extraordinary work in the exhibition along with many more masterpieces by this great artist. We are very grateful to the owner of the work for lending it to Tate and our partner organisation, Ferrara Arte.’