Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA

£15,000 - £20,000 | £37000

+ Buyers Premium


Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA, FRS, FRSA (1723-1792)

Girl leaning on a pedestal, 'The Laughing Girl'

Oil on canvas

76.4 x 63.5cm; 30 x 25in


Painted for the Polygraphic Society, 1787;

Their sale, Christie's, London, 14 November 1793, where purchased by John Opie RA (1761-1807);

His posthumous sale, Peter Coxe, London, 6 June 1807, lot 108, where purchased by William Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale (1757-1844) (£451.10s);

By descent to William Lowther, 2nd Earl of Lonsdale (1787-1872);

By descent to Henry Lowther, 3rd Earl of Lonsdale (1818-1876);

By descent to St George Lowther, 4th Earl of Lonsdale (1855-1882);

His sale, Christie, Manson and Woods, London, 8 March 1879, lot 5 (unsold);

By descent to Hugh Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale (1857-1944);

His sale, Christie, Manson and Woods, London, 18 June 1887, lot 819, where purchased by Thos. Agnew & Sons;

From whom purchased by James Orrock RI, ROI (1829-1913), 23 June 1887;

Arthur Sanderson Esq. by c.1900;

His sale, Christie, Manson and Woods, London, 6 May 1910, lot 120 (unsold);

Christie, Manson and Woods, London, Important Pictures by Old Masters, 2 July 1937, lot 21, where purchased by The Fine Art Society, London (£199);

The Fine Art Society, London, November 1937;

Private Collection, Berkshire;

And by descent


James Northcote, The Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds (London, 1819), vol. II, p.350;

Joseph Farington, The Farington Diary, ed. James Greig (London, Hutchinson & Co.), vol. I, p.18;

Algernon Graves and William Vine Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds (London, 1899), vol. III, p.1167, and vol. IV, p.1456;

Sir Walter Armstrong, Sir Joshua Reynolds: First President of the Royal Academy, (London, 1910), p.240;

Martin Postle, Sir Joshua Reynolds: The Subject Pictures (Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp.106-107;

Martin Postle, in David Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, A complete catalogue of his paintings (New Haven and London, 2000), text vol., p. 532, cat. no. 2074 (untraced)


London, British Institution, 1813, no.81;

London, British Institution, 1823, no.39;

London, British Institution, 1833, no.44;

London, British Institution, 1843, no.2;

London, Royal Academy, 1876, no.2


W. Bond, in stipple, 1813, as 'The Laughing Girl. Engraved from a highly finished Enamel, painted by H. Bone Esq. from the original picture now in the possession of Lord Lonsdale';

J. Singleton, small oval stipple;

G.S. Shury, 1864

Despite its illustrious provenance, this fine example of Sir Joshua Reynolds' 'fancy pictures' has not been seen since 1937, and has only been recently rediscovered, after hanging for decades unrecognised on the walls of a family home.

Reynolds painted two distinct versions of this subject, popularly known as 'The Laughing Girl', which Martin Postle has labelled Type A and Type B. The original version of Type A is at Kenwood House, probably painted in 1782, and shows a girl wearing a cream coloured dress, golden shawl and hair held back by a hairband. It is thought that Reynolds may have originally painted Type B, to which the present version belongs, as a pendant to Rembrandt's Girl at a window (Dulwich Picture Gallery, no.163).

Reynolds painted the present work in 1787 for the Polygraphic Society, a commercial venture which produced facsimile copies of both old masters and modern paintings. When the society closed, the painting was bought by the artist John Opie. On 25 November 1793 Joseph Farington (1747-1831) recorded in his diary that 'Opie has bought a three-quarter picture painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, for which he gave to the Proprietors of the Polygraphic Manufactory 60 guineas. The subject of a girl resting on her arms. Opie thinks Sir Joshua was the greatest colourist that we have any knowledge of by their works, including the Italian and Flemish masters'. Whilst in Opie's collection the painting was also copied by the noted enamel painter Henry Bone (1755-1834), and Bone's squared drawing of Reynolds'