Scottish-born banker James Coutts sat for a portrait with painter Joshua Reynolds in the early 1770s. Painted on a panel of unprimed mahogany, the resulting picture is now a wreck. Flakes tear through the forehead, eye, and cheeks; they pierce Coutts’s visible ear and tatter his throat. So problematic was the panel that it was given in the 1850s to Scotland’s national art gallery as a means for teaching a moral lesson to aspiring artists about the dangers of Reynolds’s risky painting techniques. That conception of the first president of Britain’s Royal Academy of Arts is difficult to square with familiar assessments. Yet, Reynolds’s chemical experiments were intensively discussed and collected by his votaries. By the mid-nineteenth century, they were seen to bear on painting and photography alike. This introduction argues that the force of Reynolds’s chemical experiments is reducible to neither painting nor photography; instead, it opens a history of “temporally evolving chemical objects”—of materials known and valued for changing visibly in time, while affording conceptual reflection on time. This introduction defines the temporally evolving chemical object and maps the structure of the book as a relay through and beyond British pictorial arts of the long eighteenth century.
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