Moses in the Bulrushes
19 November 2004 - 19 January 2005
Not seen by the public since 1884, Reynolds’s Moses in the Bulrushes was displayed throughout the winter of 2004 at the Foundling Museum.
The striking painting of an abandoned infant lying in a wicker basket joined other famous works in the Museum’s permanent Collection that take Moses as their theme. Seen symbolically as the first ‘foundling’ by painters such as Hogarth and Hayman, the subject was often used to suggest the work of the Foundling Hospital – the saving of young lives. Reynolds’s interest in painting babies dates from the 1770s when he was working on his designs for the West Window of New College, Oxford notably The Nativity, and may account for the resemblance of the baby Moses to the infant Christ depicted in this work.
The well-known story of the infancy of Moses is taken from The Old Testament, as told in the Book of Exodus. Worried by the threat of the Israelites in his land, the King of Egypt ordered the execution of all the male infants in the tribe. One Israelite woman, determined to save her son aged three months placed him in a wicker basket among the bulrushes on the riverbank. There the child was found by Pharaoh’s daughter, who had come to the river to bathe. Moved by the child’s crying, she took pity upon him, adopted him as her son, and named him Moses.
Sir Joshua Reynolds was born in Plympton, Devon, in 1723. From the 1770s, Reynolds was increasingly involved in the making of subject pieces; history paintings and so-called ‘fancy pictures’. These works which invariably featured small children in the guise of infant saints and deities, were considered by connoisseurs at the time to be among his finest works. Following the artist's death in 1796 a studio sale was held in which Moses was purchased for 125 guineas, a higher sum than the celebrated portrait of Omai, which sold for 100 guineas.
Image: Moses in the Bulrushes, Sir Joshua Reynolds P.R.A. (1723-1792) Oil on canvas, 69.8 x 90.2 cm. Loaned from Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts
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