Papers relating to Reynolds's resignation from the Royal Academy

RA Collection: Archive

Reference code



Papers relating to Reynolds's resignation from the Royal Academy





Extent & medium

27 pieces

Historical Background

On 22 February 1790, following a disagreement with the General Assembly over its opposition to the election of the Italian architect Giusepppe Bonomi to the post of Professor of Perspective, vacant since 1786, Reynolds tendered his resignation as President, and his membership of the Royal Academy. The General Assembly had objected to the appointment on the grounds that Bonomi was not even an Associate of the Academy, and a foreigner. The opposition was led by Sir William Chambers and William Tyler. They had as their candidate Edward Edwards, an Associate member who had delivered a series of private interim lectures during the vacancy. Reynolds tried to get Bonomi elected a full Academician on the death of Jeremiah Meyer. At the General Assembly of 10 February 1790, a humiliating scene took place, which culminated in Reynolds's resignation. On 13 March he was reinstated, although he never regained the respect he had formerly commanded. The apologia was written between February and March 1790.

Content Description

Several heavily corrected draft versions [REY/3/67-93] of Reynolds's apologia ("justification") over the Bonomi affair, giving details of events preceding the meeting and a verbatim account of the meeting itself, and recording Reynolds's grief and anger at the illiberality of the members of the RA in their attitude toward foreigners. The apologia was evidently written in haste, is incomplete, and is often confusing and difficult to decipher. The group also contains contemporary copies [REY/3/94] of letters from Reynolds to Sir William Chambers. In the second letter he states that since he has been driven from the chair of the Presidency, he does not think that he could be of any use to the Academy as a simple Academician, and he asks Chambers to lay his letter before the King [1790, Ingamells and Edgcumbe, pp. 202ff.]


The arrangement of the papers follows the reconstruction by F. W. Hilles in The Literary Career of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Cambridge, 1936, (Appendix III).


John Ingamells and John Edgcumbe, The Letters of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Yale, 2000.