Reynolds Place, TW9

Place Name

Sir Joshua Reynolds (July 16, 1723 – February 23, 1792) was one of the major European painters of the 18thCentury who had a property in Richmond in later life. He promoted the “Grand Style” in painting which depended on idealisation of the imperfect. He was a founder and first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, and was knighted by George III in 1769, a few years before he was made his Principal Painter in Ordinary. Born in Plymouth, he showed talent from an early age and by the time he was 30 was in huge demand as a portrait painter, achieving both fame and wealth. In 1768 he became the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, a position he was to hold until his death. In 1771 he decided to build a villa, Wick House, in Richmond, a popular choice since it was the base of George III’s court. John Cloake in Richmond Past writes: “He acquired a grant of land at the top of Petersham Common from the Earl of Dysart, and asked Sir William Chambers to acct as his architect. The house was originally intended just as a place to entertain friends, but as correspondence between Chambers and Reynolds reveals the latter changed his mind so often about his requirements that, although the house was a very simple one architecturally, the price had doubled by the time it was finished in 1772.” Despite this the property did not impress everyone his niece, Miss Palmer, described out was “a house stuck upon the top of a hill, without a bit of garden or ground of any sort near it, but what is as public as St James’s Park.” H M Cundall in Bygone Richmond adds: “Sir Joshua rarely passed the night in the house, but he frequently drove down from Leicester Square to entertain his friends to dinner. Many notable persons were his guests, including Johnson Goldsmith, Burke, the Garricks, and a host of others. It was from here also that he painted his only important landscape – a view from Richmond Hill. If his intention of being so close to the king was to win high office, it had worked but not without some last minute cajoling. On August 10, 1784 Allan Ramsay died and the office of Principal Painter in Ordinary to King George III became vacant. Gainsborough felt that he had a good chance of securing it, but Reynolds felt he deserved it and threatened to resign the presidency of the Royal Academy if he did not receive it. And so he took up office… much to his retreat. Soon afterwards he wrote to James Boswell: “If I had known what a shabby miserable place it is, I would not have asked for it; besides as things have turned out I think a certain person is not worth speaking to, nor speaking of”, presumably meaning the king. Reynolds wrote to Jonathan Shipley, Bishop of St Asaph, a few weeks later: “Your Lordship congratulation on my succeeding Mr Ramsay I take very kindly, but it is a most miserable office, it is reduced from two hundred to thirty-eight pounds per annum, the Kings Rat catcher I believe is a better place, and I am to be paid only a fourth part of what I have from other people, so that the Portraits of their Majesties are not likely to be better done now, than they used to be, I should be ruined if I was to paint them myself”. The road name came much later as part of the Richmond Parish Lands Charity development of the 1970s.


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