Wilson Online Reference
Reynolds, Discourses
Sir Joshua Reynolds
Discourses on Art
Yale University Press
New Haven, USA and London, UK
Date of Publication
Originally 1769 onwards; this edition 1997
Secondary published
Source Institution
Royal Academy of Arts, London
Document Inventory/Accession No
ISBN: 0300073275; 9780300073270
More Information
Sir Joshua Reynolds's fifteen discourses, delivered to the students of the Royal Academy from 1769 to 1790, were published intermittently throughout his lifetime and later. A modern scholarly edition, edited by Robert R. Wark, was first published in 1959 by the Henry Huntington Library and Art Gallery. A reprint was published in 1975 by Yale University Press. The present paperback is the third edition of it. xxiii + 349 pp., including an introduction, two appendices & 24 monochrome pls. Wilson was notoriously criticised in Discourse XIV (1788), six years after his death.
Full Text
Reynolds's Criticism of Wilson's Destruction of the Children of Niobe: 'Our late ingenious academician, Wilson, has, I fear, been guilty, like many of his predecessors, of introducing gods and goddesses, ideal beings, into scenes which were by no means prepared to receive such personages. His landskips were in reality too near common nature to admit supernatural objects. In consequence of this mistake, in a very admirable picture of a storm, [P90] which I have seen of his hand, many figures are introduced in the fore-ground, some in apparent distress, and some struck dead, as a spectator would naturally suppose, by the lightning; had not the painter, injudiciously (as I think) rather chosen that their death should be imputed to a little Apollo, who appears in the sky, with his bent bow, and that those figures should be considered as the children of Niobe. To manage a subject of this kind, a peculiar style of art is required; and it can only be done without impropriety, or even without ridicule, when we adapt the character of the landskip, and that too, in all its parts, to the historical or poetical representation. This is a very difficult adventure, and it requires a mind thrown back two thousand years, and as it were naturalized in antiquity, like that of Niccolo Poussin, to atchieve it. In the picture alluded to, the first idea that presents itself, is that of wonder, at seeing a figure in so uncommon a situation as that in which the Apollo is placed; for the clouds on which he kneels, have not the appearance of being able to support him; they have neither the substance nor the form, fit for the receptacle of a human figure; and they do not possess in any respect that romantick character which is appropriated to such a subject, and which alone can harmonize with poetical stories. It appears to me, that such conduct is no less absurd than if a plain man, giving a relation of a real distress, occasioned by an inundation accompanied with thunder and lightning, should, instead of simply relating the event, take it into his head, in order to give a grace to his narration, to talk of Jupiter Pluvius, or Jupiter and his thunder-bolts, or any other figurative idea; an intermixture which, though in poetry, with its proper preparations and accompaniments, it might be managed with effect, yet in the instance before us would counteract the purpose of the narrator, and instead of being interesting, would be only ridiculous.' (Discourse XIV, 1788, pp. 255-56, lines 280-315)