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Caroline Kirkley (fl.1795-97)

A self-portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds published 18 Mar 1795

Mezzotint | 38.8 x 29.2 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 641022

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  • A mezzotint after a self-portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds; almost half length, turned three-quarters to the right. He wears a coat with a high collar, and a cravat. 2nd state of 3. Inscribed below: Sir J. Reynolds pinx.t / Caroline Kirkley sculp.t / London Pub.d as the Act Directs. March 18. 1795. By A. Molteno. Printseller to her Royal Highness the Duchess of York, N.o 76. S.t James’s Street.

    This print was published a month after RCIN 641025 and may have been intended as a pendant to that print, though by a different publisher. It is almost the same size and features a simple fictive frame of the same design, with the implied light on both Reynolds and the frame coming from opposed directions. The two prints reproduce self-portraits executed at the beginning and end of Reynolds’s career; this one renders, not very accurately, what was reportedly his last self-portrait (private collection), executed in the late 1780s, soon after RCIN 400699.

    Caroline Kirkley, the daughter of Reynolds’s servant Ralph Kirkley, was apprenticed to the mezzotinter John Raphael Smith (RCIN 650611) on 1 April 1789 for a period of five years; this print therefore dates from the year after her apprenticeship came to an end. It was presumably through her father that she would have had access to the painting some time earlier, perhaps making an imperfect copy as part of her training. In September 1792, six months after Reynolds’s death, the painting was described by James Boswell at Killiow House in Cornwall, the seat of Richard Gwatkin, husband of Reynolds’s niece Theophila Palmer. If this was Kirkley’s attempt to forge an independent career as a printmaker it seems not to have succeeded as no other prints by her are known. She and her younger sister Sarah both exhibited portrait miniatures at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1796 and 1797, but thereafter they disappear from the historic record.

    Text adapted from Portrait of the Artist, London, 2016
  • Medium and techniques



    38.8 x 29.2 cm (sheet of paper)

    37.3 x 27.8 cm (platemark)

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    Object type(s)