Rarely-seen Portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds at Rochester Cathedral

21st July 2023

A rarely seen portrait by renowned artist Sir Joshua Reynolds has gone on display in Rochester Cathedral to mark the tricentenary of his birth.

Rarely-seen portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds goes on display in Rochester Cathedral

The portrait depicts the Bishop of Rochester, Dr John Thomas and was painted in 1781 and is the first time the bishop has returned to his cathedral since his death in 1793.

Sir Joshua Reynolds is regarded as the ‘Father of British portraiture’ and was one of the greatest European painters of the 18th century. He was the founding president of the Royal Academy of Arts and was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral. Paintings by Reynolds can be found in many of the world’s leading galleries including the Tate Britain and National Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

July 16 2023 marks the 300th anniversary of his birth and events and exhibitions are planned throughout the country including Plympton, where Reynolds was born and the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly.

The portrait shows Thomas with Westminster Abbey in the background wearing his Order of the Bath regalia. In 1768 he became the Dean of Westminster Abbey and from 1774 to 1793 he also served as the Bishop of Rochester. Dr Thomas was Chaplain to both King George II and King George III and was a member of the prestigious Order of the Bath.

Rarely-seen portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds goes on display in Rochester Cathedral.

Rochester Cathedral still holds parts of the regalia featured in the portrait and these will go on display too.

Thomas and Reynolds knew each other socially and appeared to have been friends. Reynold’s diary shows a number of appointments for dinner beyond the five or six sittings required for the painting. Sir Joshua Reynolds was friends with many of the leading figures in Georgian Britain and both men were part of the Georgian Royal Court with official appointments by King George III.

The Dean of Rochester, The Very Rev’d Dr Philip Hesketh AKC DL says;

“The story of how this painting came to be exhibited at the Cathedral is truly remarkable  – definitely a case of divine providence.  We are thrilled to have this stunning portrait on display and encourage everyone to come and see it while they can.”

The portrait will be on display at Rochester Cathedral until January 2024. Admission to Rochester Cathedral is free. Visitors are encouraged to check the Cathedral website for opening times.