Sir Joshua Reynolds and Saltram

Alison Cooper, Curator Alison Cooper Curator
John and Theresa Parker as children by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Many country houses have paintings by the famous portraitist, Joshua Reynolds. Few can claim as important a connection to him as Saltram. Not simply patrons, the Parker family were friends with the painter who was born less than a mile from Saltram in Plympton.

Many of the family portraits by Reynolds can be seen in the morning room.
Morning Room at Saltram
Many of the family portraits by Reynolds can be seen in the morning room.

Business and pleasure

Account books belonging to both Reynolds and John Parker II show that they met frequently in London. Reynolds also came to stay at Saltram for at least a month in 1770. The family commissioned Reynolds to paint them on many occasions. He acted as an advisor and art dealer as well so a number of paintings in the house were acquired thanks to him.  Aside from business, account books record plenty of dinners out as well as entries for the settling of gambling debts between them.  

Oil painting on canvas, John Parker, later 1st Earl of Morley (1772-1840) and his Sister Theresa Parker, later the Hon. Mrs George Villiers (1775-1856), as children by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Oil painting on canvas, John Parker, later 1st Earl of Morley (1772-1840) and his Sister Theresa Parker, later the Hon. Mrs George Villiers (1775-1856), as children by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Oil painting on canvas, John Parker, later 1st Earl of Morley (1772-1840) and his Sister Theresa Parker, later the Hon. Mrs George Villiers (1775-1856), as children by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Three portraits to spot on your visit

Although there are many portraits by Reynolds at Saltram, make sure you don’t miss three in particular.

In the morning room Reynolds has painted John Parker II out on the Saltram estate. John seems very much at ease in this painting, enjoying the outdoors and casually leaning against a gate. We know that John loved outdoor pursuits and had a stable full of horses so this portrait seems very fitting. His relaxed pose, and the reduced canvas size creates an intimate portrait, demonstrating the familiarity between sitter and painter.

John Parker, 1st Baron Boringdon (1734/5-1788), with his Gun, leaning on a Gate by Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (Plympton 1723 - London 1792)
John Parker, 1st Baron Boringdon (1734/5-1788), with his Gun, leaning on a Gate by Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (Plympton 1723 - London 1792)
John Parker, 1st Baron Boringdon (1734/5-1788), with his Gun, leaning on a Gate by Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (Plympton 1723 - London 1792)

In the Saloon, look for the portrait of Theresa Parker. This was painted specifically for the Saloon but took quite a few years for Reynolds to complete. Theresa joked with Reynolds, calling him ‘exceedingly lazy’. Unusually, she sat for the portrait whilst pregnant and commented 'I expect you will say I have chose an improper time for the purpose…I am very fat.' Once completed, the painting was shown at the Royal Academy in 1773 and the family adored this portrait as they did Theresa herself. 

The Hon. Theresa Robinson, Mrs John Parker (1745-1775) by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1770-2 / Saltram NT 872149
The Hon. Theresa Robinson, Mrs John Parker by Sir Joshua Reynolds
The Hon. Theresa Robinson, Mrs John Parker (1745-1775) by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1770-2 / Saltram NT 872149

As you climb the stairs, you can come face to face with Reynolds. This portrait was painted by Angelica Kauffman, another famous artist of the 18th century. She has captured Reynolds in a moment of thought – his chin resting on his hands. The Parker family must have thought very highly of their friend Reynolds to have wanted his portrait in their collection and on display in their house.

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA by Angelica Kauffman RA, 1767 / Saltram NT 872180
Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA by Angelica Kauffman
Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA by Angelica Kauffman RA, 1767 / Saltram NT 872180