In 1773 the successful portrait artist Joshua Reynolds painted the aristocratically maternal Lady Cockburn and her three young sons using the methods he preached in his lectures as first president of the Royal Academy.
Study the old masters, Reynolds instructed his students, for “the works of those who have stood the test of ages, have a claim to … respect and veneration to which no modern can pretend”.
In his portrait of Cockburn and her boys Reynolds practised what he preached. He structured his composition with quotations from masterpieces by Van Dyck and Velázquez. Yet Reynolds thought the picture still needed something – so he added a portrait of his huge pet parrot to its classical setting.