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Pocket books

RA Collection: Archive

Archive context

Showing item 1 of 3 in this group

Reference code



Pocket books





Extent & medium

27 vols

Previous reference codes

610; REY/1/1-57

Content Description

The series consists of Reynolds's pocket books, also known as sitter books. Books covering the following years are not extant at the Royal Academy or elsewhere: 1756, 1763, 1774-6, 1778, 1783 and 1785.

The entries in the pocket books do not all necessarily represent a portrait sitting: appointments might be made to arrange sittings for the callers themselves or for others, to check progress, discuss an engraving, or for other reasons. And not every entry records a visitor to Reynolds's house. The appointment with the painter Allan Ramsay on the evening of 30 April 1780 took place at Ramsay's house, as is recorded in Dr Johnson's letters. The information recorded varies between "timed entries, memoranda, lists, and apparently random jottings" [Mannings, p. 2], and may be placed in context by remembering that Reynolds's normal dining hour was 4 pm in the 1760s, and 5 pm twenty years later.

There is great consistency of treatment throughout the thirty year period in which Reynolds maintained his pocket books, and each of the books is of a similar format. Generally, his appointments are recorded on the left of each double page, and memoranda are recorded on the right (nominally the accounts page). [Reynolds's accounts are usually entered into a separate series of ledgers.] Most of the appointments are precisely timed, and usually entered in ink. The reasonable supposition is that many, or most, are sittings. There are, however, numerous untimed appointments, the nature of which is more difficult to explain. These may have been social calls, or (as in the case of the equestrian portrait of Lord Ligonier produced in 1760) periods at which Reynolds worked on a portrait without the sitter being present [Mannings, p. 3]. It is known, equally, that the pocket books do not provide a record of all sittings, and one should avoid an over-literal interpretation of the evidence they provide.

The memoranda on the right hand page include notes of addresses, reminders to write a letter, notes on the need to finish, copy, or varnish a picture, and notes on types of frames: "send to" is a frequent form of entry. There are also lists of names. These may constitute lists of portraits in progress that had been, or were due to be completed by someone else (such as the drapery painter Peter Toms) [Mannings, pp. 4-6].

Reference is made in the descriptions of individual pocket books to the record of appointments that may have been sittings resulting in the contemporary exhibition a portrait at the Royal Academy [RA] or Society of Artists [SA].


Nineteen books were owned by Miss Gwatkin, Princess Square, Plymouth in 1852 [Cotton's catalogue of Reynolds's portraits, Plymouth, 1852].

Acquisition Details

Purchased by the Royal Academy in May 1873 (Annual Report, p.18), for £29.10 from Lewis Pocock (TRE/3/6).

Associated Material

The only other surviving pocket book, and the earliest, for 1755, is in the Cottonian Collection at the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery. Description and images: http://www.cottoniancollection.org.uk.


Graves. A., and Cronin, W. V., A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 4 vols, London, 1899-1901.

Mannings, D., and Postle, M., Sir Joshua Reynolds. A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, New Haven and London, 2000