This engaging self-portrait, painted circa 1788-90, is a version of the celebrated picture in the Royal Collection and was presented by Reynolds to his friend Francis Osborne, 5th Duke of Leeds, in 1790, two years before the artist's death.
Reynolds's first biographer Edmond Malone described the Royal Collection self-portrait, painted circa 1788 and given to King George IV by the artist's niece, Mary Palmer, Marchioness of Thomond, as 'extremely like him', observing that it shows the artist 'exactly as he appeared in his latter days, in domestick [sic.] life' (The Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds...to which is prefixed an account of the life and writings of the author by Edmond Malone, London 1797, I, p. lxxvii). Malone adds that the painter was 'of a florid complexion, and a lively and pleasing aspect; well made, and extremely active' (loc. cit.).
Described by Professor David Mannings as 'substantially autograph' (op. cit.), this picture is one of the last self-portraits by Reynolds, and exhibits the enduring influence of Rembrandt on the artist. It is the only type that shows Reynolds in his spectacles, which he wore from the early 1780s due to short-sight. As Martin Postle has observed, the artist's decision to show himself as such as 'not related simply to his self-image as a painter, or even his appearance in 'domestick life', but to the image he held in even higher esteem - that of a philosopher, and man of vision' (M. Postle, Reynolds: The Creation of Celebrity, exhibition catalogue, London 2005, p. 86, under no. 7).
On 4 October 1790 Reynolds wrote to the Duke of Leeds to say that 'the Picture which I have the honour of sending by the bearer, is, either as a subject, or as a Picture scarce worth hanging however, it is very flattering to me that Your Grace is of another opinion, and your being so, I seriously consider as the greatest honour of my life' (op. cit.). The Duke of Leeds, a fellow member of the Literary Club - founded by Reynolds and Samuel Johnson - and pall-bearer at the artist's funeral, sat to Reynolds when Marquess of Carmarthen in 1764 (private collection), and later, in 1777-8, for the group portraits of The Dilettanti Society (London, Society of Dilettanti), in which he is shown seated on the near side of the table with a gem in his outstretched hand (fig. 1).