A Reynolds Portrait for the Birmingham Museum

Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)
Portrait of Dr. John Ash, 1788
Oil on Canvas - 241.3 x 147.3 cm
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Photo : Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

15/10/12 - Acquisition - Birmingham, Museum and Art Gallery - The Portrait of Dr. John Ash by Joshua Reynolds (see article in French), on deposit at the Birmingham Art Gallery since 1994, has now joined the collections permanently thanks to its recent acquisition by the museum.
The work was commissioned in 1788 by the governors of the General Hospital in Birmingham and towered over the Board Room before being owned by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Charity which wished to cede it. Estimated at £900,000, it was finally acquired at £875,000 by the Art Gallery. Always there when needed, the Art Fund (see article in French) contributed £100,000, generously rounded out by the £675,000 of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the final £100,000 were raised by the Museums Trust [1].

An eminent physician, John Ash (1723-1798) participated in the founding and organization of the Birmingham hospital which opened its doors in 1779 "for the relief of the sick and disabled." Dressed in the robe of a doctor of medicine worn over a black velvet suit with a lace tie, his left hand, bearing a ring, lies on a table covered in a rich fabric while his right hand is holding a map of the hospital ; a landscaped background draws the viewer’s eye offering a glimpse of the building in question. A statue of Charity recalls the physician’s and the hospital’s good works to the city.
The painter did not represent a man from the nobility but rather a scientist in a monumental composition, a theatrical setting rendered by the hanging drapery and standing columns. This formula is found in other portraits : a seated model, elbow placed on a table, under a dais, but generally cut off at the knees, for example in Warren Hastings at the National Portrait Gallery in London, looking natural and distracted, or even another doctor, Percival Pott, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1784 and presented as a gift to Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. However, here, Reynolds chose to distance the viewer thus magnifying the portrayed figure whose goodness needed no more proof, while the patrons obviously wished to overrule his modesty. The painting was engraved by Francesco Bartolozzi in 1791.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, mardi 16 octobre 2012


[1] Notably with funding from the Museum Development Trust, Public Picture Gallery Fund, the Friends of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, William A. Cadbury Trust and John Feeney Trust.

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