Portraiture in Action

Mark Hallett

Publicaton Date
June 2014
Standard Number
Yale University Press
488 pages

A deeply researched and elegantly written study on Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) – Georgian England's most celebrated portraitist and the first president of the British Royal Academy of Arts--this lavishly illustrated volume explores all aspects of Reynolds's portraiture. Mark Hallett provides detailed, compelling readings of Reynolds's most celebrated and striking works, investigating the ways in which they were appreciated and understood in his own lifetime. Recovering the artist's dynamic interaction with his sitters and patrons, and revealing the dramatic impact of his portraits within the burgeoning exhibition culture of late-18th-century London, Hallett also unearths the intimate relationship between Reynolds's paintings and graphic art. Reynolds: Portraiture in Action offers a new understanding of the artist's career within the extremely competitive London art world and takes readers into the engrossing debates and controversies that captivated the city and its artists.

Winner of the 2015 Historians of British Art Book Prize for a single-author work relating to a period before 1800.

About the author

  • Märit Rausing Director at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London

Reviews & Coverage

  • "Mark Hallett’s Reynolds: Portraiture in Action is the fullest, best and most readable account of Reynolds’ development as a portrait artist in decades, and the book is expensive because its many illustrations keep pace with almost everything that Hallett describes in his well-chosen words."

    - Michael Glover The Independent
  • "[Reynolds] has now been handsomely published by Yale University Press and is a major and deeply serious work, informed by all the latest scholarship in the field of 18th-century studies. . .It is deeply thoughtful about the ways in which Reynolds conceived of his compositions and the most substantial contribution to the study of Reynolds for a generation."

    - Charles Saumarez Smith Literary Review
  • "Hallett. . .brings Reynolds’s actions as a portraitist alive on the page. He reveals the inventive energy Reynolds put into the practice of an art form that had come to be stigmatised, and traces the decision-making both inside compositions and between portraits as they were displayed and in relation to their settings. The portraits tell the story; the life, in Reynolds: Portraiture in Action, is in the works."

    - Norma Clarke TLS
  • "His ability to tease out the narratives implicit in expressions and gestures has entirely persuaded me... Hallett is continually alert to the place of portraits he discusses within the long career that, as he demonstrates, Reynolds managed so carefully and with such ambition. If there is a more revealing work than this on English portraiture, I do not know of it."

    - John Barrell Oxford Art Journal
  • "Sumptuous . . . Hallett’s reassessment and the book’s wonderful illustrations give one a chance to judge [Reynolds’s] portraits properly."

    - Henrik Bering New Criterion