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Joshua Reynolds Archive

Call Number: MSS 30

Scope and Contents

The collection comprises correspondence, notebooks, writings, and other manuscript material by or about the artist Joshua Reynolds. Correspondents include Francis Barton Abington, Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz, John Bacon, Joseph Banks, Edmund Burke, Sir William Hamilton, John Hely-Hutchinson, Henry Hope, Hendrik Jansen, Samuel Johnson, William Johnson, Bennet Langton, Elizabeth Montagu, Thomas Percy, William Roscoe, Charles Manners, Duke of Rutland, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, F.G. Waldron, Benjamin West, and Pieter Yver. Several of the notebooks record Reynolds's travels on the Continent, with notes on paintings seen in France, Germany, and the Low Countries. Among the writings are Reynolds's thoughts on blindness, fragments of his Discourses, and notes on Pliny and Johnson. Some of the material throughout the collection concerns Reynolds's tenure as the first president of the Royal Academy.


  • 1749-1816


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Existence and Location of Copies

Letters by Reynolds have been published by Hilles and Ingamells/Edgcumbe, as noted in the Bibliography herewith. Material in the present collection described in Ingamells has been annotated with the Ingamells entry number.

Conditions Governing Use

The collection is the physical property of the Yale Center for British Art. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Frederick W. Hilles.


The collection is arranged into four series: I. Correspondence; II. Commonplace books, notebooks, and diaries; III. Writings; and IV. Miscellaneous.

Related Materials

Additional material from the Hilles collection of Reynolds material is now in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the Yale Center for British Art. Records for this material may be accessed in the YCBA's online catalog: http://

A portion of the Hilles collection of Reynolds material is now at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library (Yale University), in the Frederick W. Hilles Manuscript Collection

Frederick W. Hilles' copy of his Letters of Sir Joshua Reynolds (Cambridge, 1929), with his profuse annotations, is now in the collections of the Yale Center for British Art:


2 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The collection comprises correspondence, notebooks, writings, and other manuscript material by or about the artist Joshua Reynolds.

Biographical / Historical

"There has never been a time when Joshua Reynolds was not regarded as one of the great men of the Enlightenment in England and a portrait and history painter of tremendous versatility, inventiveness, originality, and ambition.

Reynolds was the seventh of the ten or eleven children of a schoolmaster and his wife, both of whose families were abundant with Church of England clergymen. Showing prodigious talent as a boy, he was apprenticed for four years to the London portrait painter Thomas Hudson of Lincoln's Inn Fields, before establishing a burgeoning portrait practice in London and Plymouth. In 1749-50, Reynolds traveled to Italy and France by way of Spain and Morocco. In Rome he copied the Old Masters, for eighteen months scouring the city's churches' princely art collections and working his way back across the Continent, similarly absorbing a host of artistic exempla. Upon his return to London, Reynolds resumed his portrait practice and achieved rapid commercial and critical success, although the failure of some of his experiments with certain fugitive pigments and varnishes was soon apparent.

Beginning in 1760, when he leased a large house at 47 Leicester Square, Reynolds exhibited with the Society of Artists but eventually distanced himself from the squabbles that increasingly divided the members from their committee. He also hesitated before accepting the invitation to become the first President of a rival "Academy" that was founded in 1768 with patronage of King George III. As President, Reynolds was knighted in April 1769, an honor that was not without precedent but that signaled Reynolds's certain preeminence in the institutional art world of London. In the Discourses he delivered as President, Reynolds set out the principles to which a great national school of art should adhere, ennobled by poetry and eloquence, intellectual dignity, and the purity of the so-called great style of Michelangelo, Raphael, and the Florentine-Roman tradition of disegno.

In the 1770s and 1780s, Reynolds's portrait subjects included most of the great men and women of the age: his own good friend Dr. Samuel Johnson, the king and queen, Sir Joseph Banks, James Boswell, Oliver Goldsmith, David Garrick, and others. He created a sideline in imaginative portrait studies of children, known as "fancy pictures," and also experimented with history painting. As Reynolds aged, he showed an increasing awareness of and interest in Dutch art and continued to be showered with honors, both domestic and foreign. In old age, the deafness he blamed on a chill he said he caught in the Sistine Chapel got worse (but that, like his harelip, was probably hereditary); in addition, his eyesight deteriorated. Although he was immensely self-important, and to that extent personally vain, in his marvelous self-portraits Reynolds freely acknowledged the existence of all three maladies, most obviously the harelip, but also his ear trumpet and spectacles, while other artists in their portraits of him rarely acknowledged their existence. After his death in 1792, Reynolds's body was attended by ten pallbearers, among whom were three dukes, two marquesses, three earls, and a cortègee of ninety-one carriages."--Paul Mellon's Legacy (2007).

Frederick Whiley Hilles (1900-1975) was a longtime professor of English at Yale University and editor of works on Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, and Joshua Reynolds. Hilles collected correspondence and other manuscript writings by James Boswell, Thomas Carlyle, Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, and members of their families. Most of this material is now at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library (Yale University), in the Frederick W. Hilles Manuscript Collection ( Hilles's Reynolds collection was featured (along with material from other collections) in An exhibition of books, manuscripts & prints pertaining to Sir Joshua Reynolds, on the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his birth (Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, 1973). A portion of Hilles's Reynolds material now forms the present collection at the Yale Center for British Art.


  • Reynolds, Joshua. Letters of Sir Joshua Reynolds collected and edited by Frederick Whiley Hilles. Cambridge (England) : University Press, 1929.
  • Reynolds, Joshua. The letters of Sir Joshua Reynolds, edited by John Ingamells and John Edgcumbe. New Haven: Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2000.
  • Wendorf, Richard. Sir Joshua Reynolds: the painter in society. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996
  • Yale University Library. An exhibition of books, manuscripts & prints pertaining to Sir Joshua Reynolds. New Haven : Yale University Library, 1973.
Joshua Reynolds Archive
compiled by Darcy Tuttle; edited by Francis Lapka
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Yale Center for British Art, Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

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