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Sir Joshua Reynolds, Lady Cockburn and her Three Eldest Sons

Key facts
Full title Lady Cockburn and her Three Eldest Sons
Artist Sir Joshua Reynolds
Artist dates 1723 - 1792
Date made 1773
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 141.5 × 113 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Alfred Beit, 1906
Inventory number NG2077
Location Room 34
Collection Main Collection
Lady Cockburn and her Three Eldest Sons
Sir Joshua Reynolds

This painting of Lady Cockburn (1749–1837) with her three energetic infant boys combines a portrait of an individual with the personification of a virtue. It is based on traditional pictures of Charity, one of the three theological virtues, often shown as a mother selflessly caring for her children. Reynolds largely based his composition on Van Dyck’s Charity of 1627–8, and James, the child kneeling on Lady Cockburn’s lap, is an almost direct copy of Cupid in Velázquez’s The Toilet of Venus. Both paintings are now also in the National Gallery’s collection. Reynolds frequently ‘invented’ new pictures from a variety of artistic sources.

The brightly coloured macaw, painted from life, is probably Reynolds’s own bird, hated by his housemaid but reportedly tame enough to perch on the wrist of his friend, Dr Johnson.

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