Sir Joshua Reynolds, Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen 1773 . Tate

Room 4 in Walk Through British Art


Benjamin West, Cleombrotus Ordered into Banishment by Leonidas II, King of Sparta  1768

Benjamin West showed this painting at the second exhibition of the newly formed Royal Academy. After several years in Italy, West had established himself in London as the leading painter of subjects from classical history. His example, and the Academy’s teaching, encouraged numerous young British artists to study in Italy.

His subject is an incident from ancient Greek history. Leonidas, king of Sparta, was usurped by his son-in-law, Cleombrutus. When Leonidas returns looking for revenge, his daughter pleads for her husband’s life. Leonidas is moved by her tears, and commutes Cleombrutus’s death sentence to banishment.

Gallery label, September 2004

artworks in 1760

George Romney, Mrs Johnstone and her Son (?)  c.1775–80

The portrait has always been known as ‘Mrs Johnstone and her Son’ since it was acquired in 1898, but probably represents instead Mrs Martha Ford, the mistress of West Florida governor George Johnstone, and their son, Alexander Patrick Johnstone. Johnstone married Charlotte Dee in Portugal in 1782, after the relationship with Martha Ford had ended, but there is documentation suggesting that this portrait was painted in the late 1770s. The identity of the sitters was perhaps left deliberately vague when the painting was bequeathed to the nation by a descendant of Governor Johnstone.

Gallery label, February 2016

artworks in 1760

Nathaniel Hone, Sketch for ‘The Conjuror’  1775

This is a sketch for a satirical painting which caused scandal when the artist tried to exhibit it. The ‘conjuror’ is Joshua Reynolds, president of the Royal Academy. He is shown magically creating new paintings from prints by other artists. Hone’s finished painting was rejected from the Royal Academy’s 1775 exhibition. One of the reasons given was that it shows the artist Angelica Kauffman dancing naked in the group of artists at the top left. It’s been suggested that Hone’s real offence was his suggestion that Reynolds stole ideas and poses from well-known paintings.

Gallery label, July 2019

artworks in 1760

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn and his Mother  c.1768–9

Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn was a hugely wealthy Welsh landowner, and a member of the ‘Honourable and Loyal Society of Ancient Britons’. Reynolds shows him with his mother. In the background is the Welsh fortress of Dinas Bran, associated with the Welsh kingdom before the English conquest in the thirteenth century. Williams-Wynn commissioned two paintings of the same view from the landscape painter Richard Wilson.

Sir Watkin was proud of his descent from the ancient British and Welsh kings, but he was also a sophisticated London gentleman with a grand house in the West End designed by the architect Robert Adam.

Gallery label, September 2004

artworks in 1760

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen  1773

The aristocratic Montgomery sisters, Barbara, Elizabeth and Anne, are shown decorating a statue of Hymen, the Greek god of marriage and fertility, with flowers. They were often nicknamed ‘The Irish Graces’, referring to the Greek goddesses of beauty and the sisters’ childhood in Ireland. The women’s poses are more often associated with the Graces than portraits of aristocratic women. The painting was commissioned by Luke Gardiner, Elizabeth Montgomery’s fiancé. A letter written by Reynolds to Gardiner promised ‘it will be the best picture I ever painted.’

Gallery label, July 2019

artworks in 1760

Martin Ferdinand Quadal, Portrait of a Man playing a Flute  1777

artworks in 1760

George Stubbs, Horse Devoured by a Lion  ?exhibited 1763

This is one of at least 17 works Stubbs made of a lion stalking and attacking a horse. Here he depicts the moment the lion sinks its teeth into the terrified horse, set against the backdrop of Creswell Crags in the Peak District. The painting showcases Stubbs’s anatomical precision, informed by his studies of caged lions at the Tower of London. It also highlights his efforts to raise the status of animal painting by showing its emotional and narrative power. By depicting the dramatic climax of the encounter, Stubbs evokes the awe and terror felt when faced with untamed nature.

Gallery label, December 2020

artworks in 1760

Johan Zoffany, Colonel Mordaunt’s Cock Match  c.1784–6

This scene is of a cock fight in Lucknow, India. The birds belong to Asaf-ud-Daula, the Nawab Wazir (governor) of Awadh and Colonel John Mordaunt. Mordaunt was an employee of Britain’s East India Company, which led British exploitation of the Indian subcontinent in the 18th century. The first British Governor-General of India, Warren Hastings, commissioned this painting. Critical opinion is divided on whether Zoffany presents a satirical, critical or celebratory picture of colonial power and Anglo-Indian society. A different version of this painting was owned by the Nawab. It is thought to have been destroyed when Lucknow was violently recaptured by British forces after the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Gallery label, August 2018

artworks in 1760

Johan Zoffany, The Bradshaw Family  exhibited 1769

Small-scale group portraits like this, known as ‘conversation pieces’, projected an idealised vision of family life. This picture employs a pyramidal arrangement of the figures to express the structure of the family. Thomas Bradshaw (1733–74), a senior civil servant and politician, is shown at the apex of the pyramid. His family is arranged below him. The two women are Bradshaw’s wife, Elizabeth on the right, and, on the left, probably his sister. The two oldest sons are shown at the far left and right of the group. Their position in the composition serves to associate them both with the sheltered space of the family unit, and the outside world.

Gallery label, February 2016

artworks in 1760

Richard Wilson, Meleager and Atalanta  c.1770

Richard Wilson’s subject is taken from the Latin poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The lovers Meleager and Atalanta have killed a huge boar sent by the goddess Diana to devastate the countryside of Calydon. But a quarrel leads to disaster and Meleager’s death.

The Academy’s President, Joshua Reynolds, urged landscape painters to elevate their scenes by sending ‘the imagination back into antiquity’. Wilson shows Meleager (on horseback) plunging his spear into the boar, already wounded by Atalanta (far left, with her friends). In the background is the city of Calydon. The main figure group was repainted by John Hamilton Mortimer.

Gallery label, September 2004

artworks in 1760

Tilly Kettle, Mrs Yates as Mandane in ‘The Orphan of China’  exhibited 1765

This portrait shows the acclaimed actor Mary Ann Yates (1728¿–¿1787) as Mandane, a character in Arthur Murphy’s tragedy The Orphan of China 1759. Yates is shown raising her hands in a way that would indicate she is speaking. Her vividly coloured costume presumably corresponds with her stage outfit. Yates found fame in the role, which she took up from the opening performance at David Garrick’s Theatre Royal on Drury Lane, London in 1759. The play was revived at the same theatre in 1764, with a special performance ‘For the Benefit of Mrs Yates’.

Gallery label, February 2016

artworks in 1760

Richard Wilson, Llyn-y-Cau, Cader Idris  ?exhibited 1774

This picture shows the lake of Llyn-y-Cau, on the mountain of Cader Idris in North Wales. The ‘discovery’ of such rugged and uncultivated scenery was greatly stimulated by the taste for the sublime: previously it would have seemed only raw and disorderly. Richard Wilson was one of the first to adapt the conventions of landscape painting to this sort of scenery, and was a major influence on other artists, including Turner. However, Wilson has still invented landscape features and heightened the precipice at the rear of the composition (Craig-y-Cau) to create a more simplified and balanced composition.

Gallery label, February 2016

artworks in 1760

Johan Zoffany, Charles Macklin as Shylock  c.1768

This courtroom scene is based on a 1768–9 performance of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (1596–9). In the play, Shylock lends money to Antonio on the condition that he can cut off a pound of Antonio’s flesh if he fails to pay it back. Here, actor Charles Macklin plays Shylock. He is shown holding a knife and preparing to attack Antonio, standing on the right. The seated figure in red on the far left is not an actor, but Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice at the time. This unusual mixture of theatre and reality suggests that this painting was a special commission, possibly for Lord Mansfield.

Gallery label, July 2019

artworks in 1760

Art in this room

N00121: Cleombrotus Ordered into Banishment by Leonidas II, King of Sparta
Benjamin West Cleombrotus Ordered into Banishment by Leonidas II, King of Sparta 1768
N01667: Mrs Johnstone and her Son (?)
George Romney Mrs Johnstone and her Son (?) c.1775–80
T00938: Sketch for ‘The Conjuror’
Nathaniel Hone Sketch for ‘The Conjuror’ 1775
N05750: Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn and his Mother
Sir Joshua Reynolds Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn and his Mother c.1768–9
N00079: Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen
Sir Joshua Reynolds Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen 1773
T14193: Portrait of a Man playing a Flute
Martin Ferdinand Quadal Portrait of a Man playing a Flute 1777

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