ABSTRACT

The quarter century from 1765 to 1790 Joshua Reynolds was the most fashionable portrait painter in Britain. Reynolds urged representations of the general and intellectual over the vulgar and strict historical truth in order to promote a national refinement of taste, which in turn would result in the virtuous contemplation of universal harmony. The representation of human difference for Reynolds is only permissible if it provokes a greater sense of tolerance for superficial oddities, which in turn it could be argued actually helps bind humanity more firmly together. Guest comments that the tattoos evident in the Mai portrait thus work to undercut the nobility assumed in his general depiction. However interpreted, the tattoos only add to the overall instability of the painting. Although it seemed to come closer to Reynolds's dictates about the need for general truths than did Scyacust Ukah, the Mai portrait yet falls short of the artist's professed objectives.