Murgia, Camilla – abstract

“This is the answer to those who tell us that Reynolds was a snob”: The Grosvenor Gallery Exhibition of Works by Joshua Reynolds (1883-1884)

Camilla Murgia

Université de Genève

In a review of the 1883/1884 London exhibitions, Edwin W. Goodwin acknowledged a show which took place at the Grosvenor Gallery and presented two hundred and nine paintings by Joshua Reynolds. At the same time, the Royal Academy housed a display consisting of about twenty five paintings by Reynolds and some other works by British masters. According to Goodwin, these two shows offered a great insight of Reynolds’ oeuvre, particularly because the last monographic exhibition dedicated to the painter dated from 1813. But while the Royal Academy aimed, primarily, at valorizing British academicians, the Grosvenor Gallery proposed a more alternative programme, showing notably Pre-Raphaelites artworks such as those by Edward Burnes-Jones. Praising Reynolds’ works, Goodwin perceived the 1883 show as an answer to the criticism addressed to the painter. Yet the display stands as a paradox if we consider that Pre-Raphaelites viewed Reynolds as an anti-model.

Why, therefore, organizing such an exhibition? The purpose of my paper is precisely to investigate the reasons surrounding this event and to show to what extent it affected the perception of Reynolds’ work. In my paper, I will demonstrate that this event is a benchmark for the reception of the British master because it functioned as a bridge between a critical and a referential understanding of his work. In a first instance, I will focus on the structure of the exhibition and on the reasons which led to its organization, such as the rivalry between the Royal Academy and the Grosvenor Gallery. Secondly, I will discuss its impact on the comprehension of Reynolds’ work. Particularly, I will show how this exhibition influenced the master’s reputation and questioned his perception as a model of the British school.