Reynolds in the Cottonian Collection

There is a wide selection of material in the collection relating to the artist, Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-1792).

Born in Plympton St. Maurice, a small town on the outskirts of Plymouth, Reynolds warrants particular consideration, both as an important figure in the history of British art, but also with the strong representation in the Cottonian Collection.

Charles Rogers (1711-1784) was well acquainted with Reynolds and his circle, especially those artists of the Royal Academy. Reynolds was commissioned by Charles Rogers to paint his portrait in 1777. The artist was also greatly admired by William Cotton III (1794-1863), the eventual benefactor of the Cottonian Collection to the city. It was through this interest that many of the portraits and Reynolds memorabilia were acquired for the collection. They comprise a number of family portraits, a bust sitters book and other material.

This material is complimented by a further series of portraits, both in oil and chalk, along with other Reynolds related items in the main art collection. You can find out more about the collection below, or if you’d like to find out more about the life and career of Reynolds, visit our Reynolds mini-site.


A portrait of a well dressed man in the late 1700s

Detail: Portrait of Charles Rogers FRS FSA (1711-1784) by Sir Joshua Reynolds

There are a total of five portraits in oils by Reynolds in the Cottonian Collection. The first portrait of these is the portrait of the founder and main collector, Charles Rogers FRS FSA (1711-1784). The remainder are family portraits, all 19th century acquisitions, brought into the collection during the custodianship of William Cotton III (1794-1863). In 1839 William Cotton and his family moved from Surrey to the village of Ivybridge, some 16 miles outside Plymouth.

Through his social contact with members of Reynolds family William Cotton III was able to acquire three of the family portraits himself. He purchased the portraits of Rev. Samuel Reynolds, Fanny Reynolds and the Self-portrait. The portrait of Mrs Mary Palmer was bequeathed in 1860 by a relation of Reynolds whom Cotton had befriended.

Bust of Reynolds

This bust was commissioned by William Cotton himself, a great admirer of Reynolds and indeed later author of several books on Reynolds. The bust was placed on view along with the rest of the Cottonian Collection in the Proprietary Library, in Cornwall Street, after Cotton donated it in 1853.

Sitters Book

Titled: ‘The New/Memorandum Book/Improv’d;/or, the/Gentleman and Tradesman’s/Daily Pocket Journal/For the Year 1755/London’, printed for R. Dodsley in Pall Mall. The publisher, Dodsley was also that of the writer and critic Dr. Johnson a close friend of Reynolds’ youngest sister, Fanny.

Reynolds kept notes of his appointments with clients in pocket books throughout his professional life. They are an important source of information about many of his portraits.

This is the earliest surviving pocket book. All but this one are in the possession of the Royal Academy.


engraved portrait of Reynolds wearing a gown and hatThere are a number of prints and publications relating to Sir Joshua Reynolds in the Cottonian Collection. These include varying publications of prints after Reynolds, some acquired for the collection by William Cotton III (1794-1863).


daguerrotype of Reynolds in presentation boxThere is a small group of items relating to Sir Joshua Reynolds. Many of these were acquired by William Cotton III (1794-1863) after his move to Ivybridge in Devon. Most of these are on permanent display in the gallery.