Lot 44
  • 44

Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A.

300,000 - 500,000 GBP
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  • Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A.
  • Boy with a Portfolio: The School Boy
  • inventory number 112 etched into the reverse
  • oil on canvas


Bought directly from the artist by George Greville, 2nd Earl of Warwick (1746–1816) in 1779 (payment for which is recorded in Reynolds' ledger on 7 March 1779 - 'Lord Warwick, for a Boy's head. Kitcat, with a portfolio £52 10');

Thence by descent.


London, British Institution, 1817, no. 93;

London, British Institution, 1833, no. 453;

London, British Institution, 1843, no. 43;

London, British Institution, 1861, no. 160;

Manchester, City Art Gallery, Art Treasures of the United Kingdom, 1857, no. 64;

London, South Kensington Museum, Second Great Exhibition of the Artworks of all Nations, 1862, no. 134;

London, Grosvenor Gallery, Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A., 1883, no. 192;

Birmingham, City Museum and Art Gallery, Exhibition of Works by Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A., 1723–1792, 1961, no. 67;

Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1985, no. 51;

London, Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1986, no. 105;

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, on long term loan.  


Anon., 'Pictures and Articles of Curiosity', in Inventory of the Contents of Warwick Castle,(Warwickshire Record Office CR1886/466), Ms., circa 1800, n.p., hanging in the Library;

Anon., Inventory of the Contents of Warwick Castle, Ms., 1806, in the Library;

W. Field, An Historical and Descriptive Account of the Town & Castle of Warwick and of the neighbouring Spa of Leamington, Warwick 1815, pp. 210, 216 ('A school boy - by Sir Joshua Reynolds'), in the Library, over the fireplace;

S. Woodburne, 'Pictures in Town', Notes on the Paintings at Warwick Castle, 1832, unnumbered ('Boy with book – Sir Joshua Reynolds – very fine'), in the London residence;

H. T. Cooke, An Historical and Descriptive Guide to Warwick Castle…, Warwick 1847, p. 83, in the Billiard Room;

W. Kendall, Inventory of Warwick Castle, Ms., 1853, in the Breakfast Room;

G. Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, London 1854, vol. III, p .216;

Anon., Inventory of Warwick Castle, Ms., circa 1860, in the Breakfast Room;

C. R. Leslie and T. Taylor, Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, London 1865, vol. I, p. 385;

E. Hamilton, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Engraved Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A. from 1755 to 1822, London 1884, p. 156;

F. E. Warwick, ‘Warwick Castle’, in The Pall Mall Magazine, vol. XI, January–April 1897, p. 41, in the Cedar Lobby;

A. Graves and W. V. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, London 1899–1901, vol. III, p. 1203;

W. Armstrong, Sir Joshua Reynolds, London 1900, p. 242;

M. Cormack, 'The Ledgers of Sir Joshua Reynolds', in Walpole Society, 1970, vol. XLII, p. 166;

E. K. Waterhouse, Reynolds, London 1973, pp. 26–27 & 48;

C. Alexander, D. White & E. D'Oench, Rembrandt in Eighteenth Century England, New Haven and London 1983, pp. 37–38;

M. Postle, Sir Joshua Reynolds: The Subject Pictures, Cambridge 1995, pp. 97–98, reproduced fig. 38;

D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds. A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, London 2000, text volume, cat. no. 2028, plates volume, reproduced fig. 1589.

by J. Dean, 1777.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Sir Joshua Reynolds. The School Boy. This painting is on a strong canvas, with a comparatively recent lining and firm, fairly old stretcher. There has been no accidental damage at all. The fresh, vivid brushwork of the head is beautifully intact. The deep brown glazing in the background has given it a little, minute premature craquelure. Elsewhere a rather Rembrandtesque brown veiling is slightly uneven in places, for instance over the portfolio, and near the waist, with a little wear perhaps in the lower right background where there has been some old generalised surface strengthening, visible under ultra violet light. The deepest darks of the folds at the shoulder, collar and sleeves seem also to have been lightly reinforced. Essentially however the condition is exceptionally good. Much of the surface retouching might be superfluous. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

As Martin Postle has observed, Sir Joshua Reynolds’s subject pictures were among the most popular and widely discussed paintings of the eighteenth century. It was here that the great President of the Royal Academy tested out the theories on painting advocated in his famous Discourses on Art, and it is clear from the artist’s own preoccupation with them, as well as the critical coverage that they received during his lifetime, that his subject pictures lay at the heart of his art. This endearingly beautiful work is one of the finest, and most charming of what came to be known as his ‘fancy pictures’. Having gained considerable popularity in the Low Countries in the seventeenth century, the fancy picture was a genre in its own right and usually presented a vignette or meditation on some common-place activity. The genre proved attractive to the cult of sensibility in both England and France, where its greatest practitioners included Watteau and Chardin. More than any other genre the fancy picture gave Reynolds the freedom to experiment with new ideas, and it is for this reason that, both individually and as a group, they represent some of his greatest and most original works.   

An artist who was constantly inspired by continental influences, the composition, handling and palette of this painting illustrate the debt to Rembrandt found in Reynolds's work from the 1770s. The subject equally derives from a tradition of portraits of studious schoolboys which originated in seventeenth-century Dutch art, but was popularized in the eighteenth century by Mercier and Greuze, as well as by Reynolds's own Boy Reading of 1747. Waterhouse (see Literature) plausibly suggested that Lord Warwick purchased the picture as a companion to his own portrait by Reynolds, when a boy, which had been commissioned from the artist by his father in 1754, and the picture is appropriately recorded as having hung in the library at Warwick Castle. One of Reynolds' most popular compositions, another version of this picture is in a private collection, and a number of copies are recorded. Waagen, who saw this painting on his visit to Warwick Castle, greatly admired it, noting that it was 'exquisite in the truth of the expression, and in the warmth and clearness of tone approaching Rembrandt'.

A nephew of Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy to Naples and among the greatest cognoscenti of the age, the 2nd Earl of Warwick was one of the great collectors of his generation, and made significant improvements to his family seat, Warwick Castle. His father had been an important patron of Reynolds, Gainsborough and the landscape architect Capability Brown, as well as Canaletto when he came to England, and the 2nd Earl added to his father’s achievements with gusto. A Fellow of the Royal Society and the Society of Arts he amassed significant collections of Boulle furniture, pietra dura marbles and is most famous for his acquisition of the famous Warwick Vase, which had been dug out of the grounds of Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli. His most significant interest, however, was portraiture, particularly from the early seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish schools, and he amassed no less than thirty-one paintings by or attributed to Van Dyck, twelve portraits by Rubens, as well as works by Rembrandt and Reynolds’s rival George Romney.