Reynolds a Journey to Genius
THE FRIENDS JOURNEY TO ACHIEVEMENT
In April 2012 the Friends of Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery were approached and asked if they were interested in purchasing two artefacts of Sir Joshua Reynolds. We naturally said yes but we would have to include the museum in such a venture. The Museum was delighted as their intention is to increase the awareness of Sir Joshua Reynolds within the Museum’s Cottonian collection.
The two items the Friends and the Museum hoped to acquire were a first self-portrait used by Reynolds as an advertisement for his Plymouth Dock studio in the mid 1740s, which he painted when he was twenty three years old, and a sketchbook compiled by him during 1750-1752 on his ‘Grand Tour’ to Italy. Both items would provide a fascinating insight into his early career and artistic development and would complement early portraits of the artist’s father and sister, already in the Museum’s collection.
Reynolds was born in Plympton St. Maurice in 1723 and went on to become one of the most important artists of his generation. Having studied in London under Devon artist Thomas Hudson he returned to the South West and set up a studio in Devonport, known at the time as Plymouth Dock. From 1745-9 he established connections with some of the region’s most wealthy landowning families. He then left to travel around Italy and study the work of great artists that had gone before him.
Reynolds returned to England in 1753 and became a highly successful artist in his own right, the first President of London’s famous art institute, the Royal Academy, and Painter to the King, George III. He died in February 1792 and his funeral took place at St Paul’s Cathedral.
So the process of obtaining grants to be able to purchase these began. The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) was approached along with the Art Fund, the Victoria & Albert Purchase Grant Fund and John Paul Getty Jr. Charitable Trust. We were successful with the HLF in a two part application, the Art Fund and the V&A, but we were un-successful with the JPG Fund.
The first stage application went into the HLF in April 2013 and the Friends have carried out a HLF Development Plan creating several tasks to get information out to Plymouth people of what we are raising funds for, why we are doing it and how it will benefit the people of Plymouth and surrounding areas. We also needed to start a fundraising campaign to raise £10,000, our contribution to the purchase price.
We were successful with the first application to the HLF and the second application went to them in November 2013 and we knew the outcome in early March 2014.
The first of our fundraising events was held at Plympton St. Maurice, the birth place of Sir Joshua Reynolds. It was held in their Guildhall in May 2013, where Emma Philip, Curator of Fine Art presented a Power Point Presentation on the great man. This was followed by a cream tea. The event was a great success and brought in over £340, a good start to our fundraising campaign.
In between this fundraising, Emma Philip asked if the Friends could buy a book for the Cottonian collection entitled, Reynolds in Italy 1750-1752. We managed to find a copy in Italy and purchased it. The next thing we knew was the author of the book contacted the Chair and said she wanted to donate to our fundraising. She sent us a cheque for £1500. Since then we had two other amounts of £1000, one from a member and another from a descendent of the Reynolds family. We were then truly on our way to achieving our goal.
We then went out to our membership and also to outside sources to raise as much money as we could. The Friends reacted famously and sent in cheque after cheque which swelled our Reynolds account very quickly. The Plympton Civic Society and the Plympton St. Maurice Civic Association also sent in large cheques in support. We had another large cheque from Plymouth College of Art and Plym Valley Heritage sent in one after Emma had carried out a talk on our behalf, along with one from a Plymouth carpet retailer. A list of all the largest donors was then displayed on our new Friends wall in the foyer of the museum. Also there is a book of all donors.
After receiving even more cheques and a well attended special coffee morning in December 2013, which realised £360, we were quietly confident of raising the £10,000 as our grand total was £8,350. An organised auction at Plymouth Auction Rooms on March 19 raised a further £805.20, making a grand total of £9,155.20. The shortfall has been covered by an anonymous donor.
After all the hard work and begging letters we achieved our target of £10,000. The result from the HLF came through to us on March 4th 2014. We and the museum had won the bid.
Our grateful thanks go out to the HLF for having faith in us, the Art Fund and to all those people who donated so generously to our appeal, and especially to our members who have stood by us right through this campaign. Thank you.
Good news, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund awarded us the £30,000 we have been waiting for, so the two items now officially belong to Plymouth.
The portrait has now been restored and further research has been done largely by volunteers on the Italian sketchbook. We look forward to both being displayed again when The Box opens.