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Sir Joshua Reynolds, Colonel Tarleton

Key facts
Full title Colonel Tarleton
Artist Sir Joshua Reynolds
Artist dates 1723 - 1792
Date made 1782
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 236 × 145.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Mrs Henrietta Charlotte Tarleton, 1951
Inventory number NG5985
Location Central Hall
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Colonel Tarleton
Sir Joshua Reynolds

Reynolds portrays Banastre Tarleton (1754–1833) aged 27, in action as commandant of the British Legion cavalry in the War of American Independence. Tarleton was famed for his reckless bravery and savagery, as well as for his vanity. He later became MP for Liverpool and defended the slave trade, on which his family’s fortune had been founded. He was made a general in 1812 and a baronet in 1816.

Reynolds portrays Tarleton momentarily dismounted on a battlefield, with gun-smoke swirling behind him. Wearing the uniform of the British Legion, he props one leg up on a cannon to re-fix his sword to his belt before changing horses. Reynolds frequently drew on ideas from old master paintings, drawings and antique sculpture for his compositions. Tarleton’s pose appears to be based on works by Rembrandt, Tintoretto and an ancient Roman sculpture of Hermes.

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