This striking, unfinished canvas constitutes an important addition to the corpus of self-portraits Reynolds painted. The earliest known self-portrait is a drawing of circa 1740 (private collection, see D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-1792), The Self Portraits, catalogue to the exhibition at Gainsborough's House and Plymouth City Art Gallery, 1992, no. 1), while the earliest oil is a work of circa 1746 (private collection; see D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, New Haven and London, 2000, no. 1, fig. 25). Reynolds's final self-portrait (private collection; ibid., no. 27, fig. 1540) was painted in 1788, four years before his death.
This picture, not included by David Mannings in his catalogue (op. cit.), as he had never seen the work and knew it only from old photographs, is one of the few portrait types of which no other versions are known. We are grateful to Martin Postle, of the Paul Mellon Centre, London, who endorses the attribution to Reynolds after inspection of the original. Dr. Postle suggests the portrait dates to the early-to-mid 1760s and notes a photograph of the picture in the Ellis Waterhouse Archive (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London). In a note on the reverse of the photograph, Waterhouse states the work is unfinished, 'probably ok', and dates to circa 1761-2.
The portrait can be compared with that painted for the Society of Dilettanti, London, circa 1766 (ibid., no. 8, fig. 869), in that it shares something of the 'sprightly Baroque vigour', the quick turn of the head and Reynolds's alert expression. As Mannings observes, 'There is indeed a new confidence expressed in the self-portraits of the sixties. The reticence, the shyness which is evident in the earliest self-portraits has now entirely disappeared if not from the man at least from the image that he now presents' (Mannings, 1992, op. cit., p. 7).