REYNOLDS, Sir Joshua (1723-1792)
Plaque erected in 1960 by London County Council at Fanum House (site of 47), Leicester Square, Leicester Square, London WC2, City of Westminster
SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS 1723-1792 PORTRAIT PAINTER lived and died in a house on this site
The current plaque replaces the SoA plaque put up in 1869 on a building now demolished. The present brown plaque was first erected in 1947, and re-erected in 1960. A duplicate, metal plaque placed at street level by the AA in 1965.
The portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds was at the height of his fame while living at 47 Leicester Square. The original building was demolished in 1937 but the brown plaque on Fanum House commemorates the site of his former home.
LEICESTER SQUARE HOME
Born in Devon, Reynolds made his first recorded portrait at the age of 12 and was living in London by the age of 17. He settled in the area of Leicester Square (then called Leicester Fields) in about 1747. In summer 1760 moved to number 47, a grand late 17th-century house on the square’s west side.
He immediately set about modernising it, building an extension to accommodate a series of studios and a picture gallery. His painting room was octagonal in shape and lit by a single window, positioned high up in the wall.
Reynolds employed a series of pupils and was looked after by a housekeeper, a role fulfilled first by his sister Fanny (1729–1807) and, from the late 1770s, by his niece, Mary Palmer, both of whom were talented artists.
A descendant recalled that ‘Everybody in the house painted . . . the coachman and the man servant Ralph and his daughter, all painted, copied and talked about pictures’.
While at number 47 Reynolds established himself as the leading portrait painter of the day. His celebrated sitters included his friends Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith and David Garrick. Appointed first President of the Royal Academy in 1768 – a position he held until his death – Reynolds was knighted in 1769 and in 1784 became Principal Painter in Ordinary to King George III.
Number 47 was the centre of Reynolds’s active social life: regular visitors included Dr Johnson, with whom he founded the Literary Club here in February 1764. The club continued to meet, mostly at the nearby Turk’s Head in Gerrard Street, until 1784.
In 1789, when his eyesight began to fail, Reynolds retired from painting and he died at number 47 three years later.