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Notebook of observations on paintings

RA Collection: Archive

Archive context

Showing item 2 of 3 in this group

Reference code



Notebook of observations on paintings


1781 & 1785



Extent & medium

1 vol.

Previous reference codes


Historical Background

Reynolds went to Flanders twice, in 1781 and in late July 1785. For the second expedition he had the specific intention of purchasing pictures auctioned off by those religious houses and monasteries dissolved by the Holy Roman emperor, Joseph II. "As a potential purchaser, Reynolds was deeply disappointed by the standard of work on offer, and bought nothing. However, in order that the visit would not be a complete waste of time he rapidly scoured the country, spending over £1000 in Antwerp on works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Snyders and Murillo. [DNB]. Hilles dated the entirety of this volume to 1785 in a misreading of the text. Harry Mount corrected this misaprehension in his work A Journey to Flanders and Holland, 1996.

Content Description

The following description is written in ink on the front cover: "Observations by J. R. [on] Paintings".


Owned by Reynolds's great niece, Mrs St John [neé Gwatkin]. A slip of paper at the front of the volume, said to have been written by Mrs St John states: "These Lines were made across these Pages by Mr Tom Taylor [Reynolds's biographer] Which ought ["not" inserted] to have been done".

Acquisition Details

Presented by Alfred Morrison esq., 1890. The book includes at the front of the volume a loosely inserted "missing" leaf, which, according to the reverse, had been given by the book's former owner, Mrs St John (neé Gwatkin) to Sir John Bowring, 14 March 1860: presented by Prof. F. W. Hilles, July 1936 (note from the Secretary, Sir Walter Lamb to the Librarian.)


F.W. Hilles, The Literary Career of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1938.

Harry Mount, Sir Joshua Reynolds, a journey to Flanders & Holland, 1996.