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Reynolds, Lady Cockburn and Her Three Eldest Sons

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Lady Cockburn and Her Three Eldest Sons, 1773, oil on canvas, 55-3/4 x 44-1/2 inches (141.5 x 113 cm) (National Gallery, London) Speakers: Pippa Couch and Rachel Ropeik. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • female robot grace style avatar for user divaCassandra1
    Take a look here, http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/online/featuredartists/reynolds/. Do you prefer this painting or any of the portraits at the bottom of the page?

    What was The Royal Academy, of which Reynolds was its first President?
    (8 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user John
      The Royal Academy of Arts (RA) still is an art institution based in Burlington House on Piccadilly in London, England. It is an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and appreciation of the visual arts through exhibitions, education and debate.
      (6 votes)
  • hopper jumping style avatar for user Heidi
    Did Joshua Reynolds have a lot of pets?
    (3 votes)
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  • mr pants teal style avatar for user Anthony Natoli
    Doesn't the scene appear more like a Madonna and Child, than a mythological image with a Cupid or putti? Although the commentators refer to the left child as similar to Cupid, I am more reminded of baby Jesus or baby John the Baptist being held in such positions by Mary in Renaissance paintings, especially by Lady Cockburn's right hand on the back of the left child. Similarly, the child in Lady Cockburn's lap appears like baby Jesus in the Pieta position, foreshadowing Jesus death and Mary holding him as in Renaissance paintings.
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

(bouncy piano music) >> We're in the national gallery in London and we are standing in front of a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds from 1773. It's Lady Coburn and Her Three Eldest Sons. Which makes you think it's going to be some portrait of a society lady very stiff and upright in a dress and the three little boys in very fancy outfits, but that's not really what we have at all. >> No, when you first look at it, it's very pink and you see these very fleshy, chubby children sort of tumbling all around her, holding on to her in the center. Obviously it's very much focusing on her as mother. >> Absolutely and this is actually a composition borrowed from paintings that have gone before it which are usually allegory scenes of charity and charity is usually shown as a mother because the idea of giving of yourself unto others is usually shown in the allegory as a mother with children. This becomes both an allegory of charity which which is perhaps becomes a comment on Lady Coburn herself, as well as being a portrait of her and her children. >> This is typical of Joshua Reynolds; he puts people in a position of a historical figure or of someone from a mythical past. It's something that he did. He compounded these two genres together, very much his own personal style. >> You get a sense of that here because you do see this very costly looking gold-orangish robe that's draped around her. It looks like it's fur-lined. >> It's very regal the way it's laid out. >> Certainly and then that mirrors this massive amount of red curtain drapery and you can see some brocade patterning details in the drapery up at the top and it's wrapped around a column at the right which hints at this mythilogical, classical, ancient Greece and Rome, that sort of the past. A little bit of a visual cue. >> We have that little bit of landscape pointing out in the background. Now this could be contemporary landscape of the 1700s. Also, that could be a view in Rome where we don't know where they're setting them here. >> The other bit of this that connects pretty directly to the idea of mythological allegory is the child who's over on the left side who has this very tender, motherly hand around his back holding him on her lap. He is pulled directly from an image of Cupid that's in a painting that goes by the name of the Roque Bevieness which is also in the National Gallery's collection. Very directly, that sort of a Cupid figure connecting to ideas of Venus and back into that mythological genre that Reynolds really liked to do. Something that is unusual, of course, is that parrot. Why would there be a parrot in this picture? >> The parrot was actually Reynolds' pet. Not necessarily an allegorical addition, but it's a pet and the story goes that it was added to this painting to even out the composition. Honestly, if you imagine it without the parrot, that would seem like a weird hole. >> I wonder what the sitters felt about that when they got home, unveiled their portrait and oh, the painter's put his pet in the corner. >> By this point, Joshua Reynolds was quite the so-and-so. He was the first president of the Royal Academy, the school for painting in London, and by this point he was very well-established in his career so to have a portrait painted by Reynolds would have been very much a status symbol in and of itself. Whether or not they like the parrot, they may not have said anything. >> My favorite part about this painting, if you look at the handling of the paint, is on the baby that's lying across her knee is the hair. You really get that feeling of whisping feeling of baby's hair and it contrasts quite nicely with that thick empasto that he's used on the lace on the cuffs. >> I do think that also was something that Reynolds was quite well-known for is this contrast of textures. Look at her cheek or all of the baby flesh almost. It's so smooth and you don't really see brush strokes and it feels touchable and then as you say, there are other areas where the paint is very thickly applied. Look at the ribbon hanging down from behind her neck. >> The red velvet as well, you can see the brush strokes on that when you get up close. They're definitely very much the presence of the painter is there. >> The painter has both showed you his skill and blended it quietly into the background. (bouncy piano music)