Portrait of Francis George Hare (1786-1842), by Joshua Reynolds

Musée du Louvre, Department of Paintings

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Master Hare, department of Paintings, Musée du Louvre

Version française   

Sir Joshua Reynolds
Plympton (Devon), 1723 - Londres, 1792

Portrait of Francis George Hare (1786-1842)
Also known as Master Hare or Infancy

H. : 77 cm. ; W. : 64 cm

Paris, Musée du Louvre, Department of Paintings, inv. R.F. 1580
Collection Alphonse de Rothschild (at least since 1875) ; verbal bequest from Alphonse de Rothschild, handed over to the Musée du Louvre by his heirs, 1905.

This portrait of a young boy with long hair, dressed in a chiffon outfit depicts Francis George Hare at the age of two. (1786-1842). He was the elder son of writer Francis Hare Naylor (1758-1815) and his wife Georgiana Shipley (†1806), an amateur painter. The portrait was commissioned by Lady Jones - née Anna Maria Shipley, wife of Orientalist painter William Jones – aunt and later adoptive mother of the model.

As a British masterpiece, the painting became quickly well known. It personifies a new vision of childhood that developed in the 18th century resulting from the Enlightenment. The status of childhood was the subject of a vast debate in England. Through its re-evaluation, childhood progressively became an image of humankind not yet corrupted by society (Meslay, 2006, p. 102). The painted landscape in the background certainly refers to this evocation of innocence, which was associated with a pastoral lifestyle in a pre-industrialized golden age. This landscape painted by using large brush strokes in brownish hues, highlights the model in the foreground. The child, in a three-quarter pose, points out something beyond the frame with his right forefinger. This pose with a raised finger could be associated with the theme of the child bearer of truth, which is found in other artworks such as Saint Jean-Baptiste painted by Reynolds a few years earlier in 1776 (London, Wallace Collection).

Joshua Reynolds, Saint Jean-Bapstiste, Londres, Wallace Collection.

Reynolds distinguished himself in child portraits, remarkable through their spontaneous and soft figures. With portraits such as Penelope Boothby (1788) or The Age of Innocence (1788. London, Tate Gallery), he renewed a genre already experimented by Thomas Gainsborough before him.

Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Penelope Boothby, London, Wallace Collection.

Reynolds - who was at the peak of his career - produced a portrait of young Francis George Hare imbued with gentleness and freshness. Robert Threw produced a colored engraving of the portrait from 1790, which was commercialized under the title Infancy. It quickly became the iconic illustration of a young boy from the British aristocracy.

This painting was on the cover of Alphonse de Rothschild’s biography - published in 1905 in the magazine L’Art – to commemorate his collections and art patronage. It was first mentioned as being part of Alphonse’s collection in 1875 (L’Art, 1875, I, p. 48). According to Paul Leroi’s testimony (1905, I, p.284), the portrait was displayed as a choice piece in Alphonse’s wife Leonora de Rothschild’s boudoir. Leroi stated: “the Baron sometimes dedicate an entire room to one or two masters, represented by only few yet major artworks that brightens everything. As is the Baroness boudoir with a Sir Joshua Reynolds and a Gainsborough portrait.” Those two paintings along with a Gobelins Tapestry were in a room described as the “Salon vert” in the residences inventory (London archives, 1888, p.46)

It was Alphonse’s decision to verbally bequest the portrait to the Louvre, who received it from Alphonse’s heirs in 1905. The Louvre archives indicate that Leon Gauchez – once art advisor to the Baron – announced the news to the Louvre on behalf of Édouard de Rothschild (Musée du Louvre Archives, compte-rendu du comité, Série 2, MI 82, 1BB35, 13 Juillet 1905, p.210).

Thus, Alphonse contributed to the setting up and enrichment of the newly created british art collection of the Musée du Louvre, mainly assembled between 1880 and 1910.

The Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York City now keeps a replica of this portrait.

Joshua Reynolds, The Age of InnocenceLondon, Tate Gallery.

Laura de Fuccia, Project manager, Institut national d’histoire de l’art, 2019

Further reading


– Meslay, Olivier, « Joshua Reynolds, Portrait de Francis George Hare », in Yann Fauchois, Thierry Grillet, Tzvetan Todorov (dir.), Lumières! Un héritage pour demain, exhibition catalog (Paris, Bibliothèque national de France, 2006), Paris, édition de la Bibliothèque national de France, 2006, p. 102.

– Meslay, Olivier, « Ecoles britanniques et américaines », in Catalogue des peintures britanniques, espagnoles, germaniques, scandinaves et diverses du musée du Louvre, coordinated by E. Foucart-Walter, Paris, éditions du Louvre, Gallimards, 2013. p. 29.

– Laurence, Béatrice, La peinture anglaise, Nantes, Editions du temps, 2006, p. 40-44.

–  Wemsill, J. B., « A catalogue raisonné of the engraved work of Joshua Reynolds », L’Art, 1875, p. 48.

Online resources

See the themed research dedicated to Alphonse de Rothschild’s collection at the Hôtel de Talleyrand.

See the artwork’s record on the musée du Louvre website:   http://www.louvre.fr/oeuvre-notices/master-hare