The son of village schoolmaster Samuel Reynolds (1681-1745) and Theophila Potter (1688-1756), Joshua Reynolds in 1740 was apprenticed to portrait painter Thomas Hudson until 1743. From 1749 to 1752 he studied the Old Masters in Italy but also acquired a severe cold which left him partially deaf for the rest of his life. From 1753 until his death he lived in London where he soon after his arrival gained some recognition for his portraits. He eventually became the foremost portrait painter of his generation, cultivating the friendship of many contemporary authors, actors and politicians including David Garrick, Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke.
Reynolds was an early member and/or co-founder of the Royal Society of Arts, the Society of Artists and the Royal Academy of Arts, becoming the first president of the latter in 1768.