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Each made his name with portrait painting. One specialized in humans, the other in horses, and they shared patrons, including the Prince of Wales, who was to become King George IV, and the horse-loving Second Marquess of Rockingham. Now, the two painters have another thing in common — each is the subject of his own summer show here.
"Joshua Reynolds: The Creation of Celebrity," which runs until Sept. 18 at Tate Britain, takes a look at the social-climbing, self-aggrandizing painter whose portrait fees were the highest in London and who eventually became president of London's Royal Academy of Arts.
A few minutes' drive north of the Tate, the National Gallery is showing "Stubbs and the Horse," a look at Stubbs' meticulously detailed paintings of racehorses and heroic portraits of the animals, in the manner of ancient Greek statues. The show runs until Sept. 25.
It's not surprising that Reynolds was so popular among the rich: He made all his subjects look grand, including himself. The show begins with a room hung with self-portraits, which Reynolds used as marketing tools. He painted himself as an artist, academic (carefully posed near a marble bust), knight and shepherd in a nativity scene, all to ensure he remained in the public's view.
"He was conventional. His specialty was aggrandizing the very grand and the ruling classes," says Philip Mansel, the author and historian, whose latest book, "Dressed to Rule: Royal and Court Costume from Louis XIV to Elizabeth II," will be published in the U.S. by Yale University Press next month. "If you had your portrait painted by Reynolds, it proved you had the money to afford him — and that you were intellectually correct."
Reynolds' portraits of military and intellectual celebrities show their subjects at the height of their powers. There's Augustus Hervey, the third Earl of Bristol, whose face and chest are spotlighted by a flash of gunpowder. He stands against a backdrop of smoking ruins after a victory in Havana. Portraits of Reynolds' intellectual pals show the 18th-century popular novelist Laurence Sterne and Samuel Johnson, the famed lexicographer and idol of Boswell.