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Master Hare

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Paintings
English painting

Author(s):
Odin Alice

This portrait of Francis George Hare is the most famous picture by Reynolds in France. A young boy with long hair, about two years old, is shown wearing a very young child's clothes. He is dressed in a chiffon outfit, as children of his age and class were. This picture swiftly became famous, and is one of the archetypal images of British art.

Simple portrait of innocence or a deeper reflection on the world of childhood?

It is rare to see such a natural pose in a portrait, even of a child. It is marvellous how Reynolds encapsulates the innocence of this very young boy. His ringlets, his rosy cheeks, but above all the entirely free pose of his right arm conspire to create a lively and spontaneous figure. The almost ethereal background of trees and greenery only enhances the feelings of natural harmony, authenticity, and spontaneity.
Reynolds creates a perfect setting for this small boy, who looks beyond the frame at something in the distance that no one else can perceive. His white skin, his bright eyes, and his dynamic pose contrast with the somber colors of the background. In creating such a setting, Reynolds wished to demonstrate the primacy of a child's world that cares little for external matters. The subtle echoes between the child's blond hair, the bronze reflections on the tree behind him, and the material that forms the child's belt enliven the picture, thereby emphasizing the child's sweetness.

Childhood in a frame

Children's portraits are one of the glories of Reynolds's output. Some of them, like that of Penelope Boothby, evoke the sweetness and poetry of childhood. Others highlight instead the humor or simplicity of childhood. More elegant, more conventional, and less tender portraits by other artists serve to remind us how important spontaneity was to Reynolds.
The tradition of the "great portrait" had already been subverted, particularly by Gainsborough, who painted a famous portrait of a child, the Blue Boy. However, by reducing the size of the frame and abandoning the necessity to show the person portrayed standing up, Gainsborough managed to allow a natural freshness to shine through. When Reynolds's picture was engraved by Robert Thew in 1790, the engraving was given the title Infancy, and it subsequently became the archetypal illustration of the young child type in England.

Reynolds: a major figure in English art

At the start of the eighteenth century, foreign artists dominated painting in England.To change this situation, it was necessary to establish and promote native artists and to create a British art with unique characteristics. In 1768 the British Academy was founded in London. Its aims were rapidly crowned with success, due mainly to frequent exhibitions.
Having striven for a long time to have British art recognized, Reynolds became the first president of the Royal Academy. He promulgated a demanding Classical training, which we know about thanks to the discourses he delivered to students at awards ceremonies, which were subsequently published. Recognized for his huge talent, Reynolds was considered one of the greatest English painters at his death in 1792.

Technical description

  • Joshua REYNOLDS (Plympton, Devon, 1723-London, 1792)

    Master Hare

    1788

  • Oil on canvas

    H. 77 cm; L. 63 cm

  • Gift of the Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, Paris, 1905

    R.F. 1580

  • Paintings

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