Jonathan Richardson the Elder

Dates1667 - 1745
RolesArtist, Author

Jonathan Richardson the Elder considered himself as much a writer as a painter and grew rich doing both. He wrote An Essay on the Theory of Painting in 1715, the first significant work of artistic theory in English, and elaborated further in his 1719 Essay on the Whole Art of Criticism as it Relates to Painting and an Argument in Behalf of the Science of the Connoisseur. After apprenticing with a public scribe, Richardson trained with a portrait painter. One of London's leading portraitists, he displayed a tight, formal style. Today he is admired for his sensitive chalk portraits of friends, his son, and himself. Also a supremely gifted drawings connoisseur, Richardson built a renowned personal collection and shaped other important collections. After his death, his collection of nearly a thousand drawings sold in London over eighteen nights.

In his extremely influential writings, Richardson claimed painting as an intellectual art and gave painters equal--if not superior--status with poets. He thought paintings should "raise and improve nature" and that portraits should "reveal the mind as well as the visual appearance" of the sitter. Richardson's writings inspired Sir Joshua Reynolds in both painting and theorizing.