Thomas Gainsborough's first self-portrait.
With the birth of Thomas Gainsborough in 1727 Britain acquired an artistic prodigy whose talent manifested itself when he was a child. This fact was recognized by the headline above his obituary which appeared in the Morning Chronicle on 8 August 1788, 'By Heaven, and not a master taught'. And yet, despite the fact that Gainsborough's first 'biographer' and friend Captain Philip Thicknesse (1719-92) stated, 'Mr Gainsborough like the best Poets was born a Painter,' (1) and his other biographers having commented on his precocity, (2) very little attempt was made until quite recently to rediscover, document and publish works by the artist in his youth, (3) although it has so frequently been observed that Gainsborough began to attain artistic proficiency at a very early age. (4)
It is well known that on 4 August 1788, two days after Gainsborough's death, his friend, correspondent and patron the Revd Sir Henry Bate-Dudley wrote in the Morning Herald, of which he was the founder owner and editor, that Gainsborough had painted 'several landscapes from the age of ten to twelve'. Before he left for London in 1740 at the age of thirteen, Gainsborough had evidently had considerable practice in making sketches in pencil and in the handling of oil paint, and it has been plausibly suggested that as a child Gainsborough worked in Suffolk with itinerant Dutch artists. (5) Lindsay Stainton and Bendor Grosvenor have recently written that none of these juvenile landscapes has until now been securely identified, but have noted that the little oil study of the corner of a field, the Landscape with sheep, lambs and a fence (Pl 4), hitherto dated about 1744-5, may be significantly earlier, which is surely right. (6) Gainsborough is also reported to have made portraits as a boy, and shortly after Bate-Dudley's letter was printed in the Morning Herald, a rival newspaper, the Morning Chronicle, stated in his obituary on 8 August 1788: 'His first efforts were small landscapes, which he frequently sold to dealers at trifling prices, and when he afterwards engaged in portraits, his price was from three to five guineas.' Gainsborough's most respected biographer, William Whitley, quotes a letter from the artist's niece, Mrs Theophilus Lane (Sophia Gardiner, 1762-1846) in which it is stated that 'an intimate friend of his mother's, being on a visit, was so struck by the merit of several heads he had taken, that he prevailed on his father to allow him to return with him to London, promising that he would procure him the best instruction he could obtain'] Although Whitley remarks that Mrs Lane was wrong in stating that it was his portraits and not a landscape that induced John Gainsborough to send his son to London, evidently a strong family tradition upheld that Gainsborough was producing 'heads' before 1740. (8)
In June 2005 a small portrait of a boy wearing a blue jacket, painted in oil on a canvas laid down on a fine, and relatively thin, oak panel (10.3 x 7.8 cm) on the verso of which is the inscription 'Gainsboro', and contained in an ebonized oval wood frame stamped 'PARR', was sold at an auction in Surrey (Pl 1, Pl 2, PI 3). (9) The portrait depicts a boy, probably about 10 years old, posed three-quarters facing to our right, wearing a blue coat and waistcoat with gold buttons, and a white stock or neckerchief. The miniature scale and quality of the picture is enhanced by the painted fictive gold frame, which is admittedly unusual, that fits immediately inside the ebonized moulded oval frame, which itself appears likely to be the original as similar frames have been found on pictures by Arthur Devis dating from about 1742. (10)
Before the appearance of this miniature portrait, only one other early oil portrait with a connection to Gainsborough had appeared, the half-length portrait of an artist with a palette (Pl 6), which was accepted by the late Sir Ellis Waterhouse as a self-portrait and included in the major Gainsborough exhibition in 2002. On that occasion the Tare curators remarked, 'It would be extremely difficult to come up with alternative candidates for such a youthful painter of a self-portrait of this quality from this date.' (11) It has been asserted that this Self-portrait with palette is Gainsborough's earliest surviving oil painting, but it has most recently been dated c1739-40, after Gainsborough's arrival in London, and is therefore, in my opinion, slightly later in date than the Landscape with sheep, lambs and a fence. Consideration needs to be given to the present miniature portrait and the inscription 'Gainsboro' on its verso, to see if there is any possibility that they are connected and that it is therefore an example of one of the early 'heads' of which Mrs Theophilus Lane spoke.
There are good reasons to think that this miniature portrait depicts Thomas Gainsborough as a boy. If the Self-portrait with palette shows Gainsborough then it does so as a teenager (13 or 14 years old). (12) The miniature shows a child, a few years younger, which is consonant with its having been painted in Sudbury around 1736-7. The shape of the boy's features compare well with those of the older Gainsborough as documented in later, fully accepted, self-portraits: oval face, dark brown hair, dark eyes, arched right eyebrow, round cheek and round chin, and protruding lower lip. Rica Jones has commented that it 'has that expression-quizzical bordering on irritable--which we discern in some portraits of Gainsborough as an adult'. (13) These features may all be found in three well-known similarly posed self-portraits. In the dashing unfinished self-portrait painted at the age of 26 at Houghton (Pl 5), dated 1754, the thick eyebrows arching towards the centre of the nose are noticeably similar, and the painter forms the eves in a comparable manner. (14) The sombre-coloured Self-portrait in the National Portrait Gallery of 1758-9 (Pl 7) (15) echoes these features, where the distinctive shape of the mouth in the miniature--a protuberant lower lip, the right edge of the mouth rising slightly at the edge--is also visible, as it is even in Gainsbrough's last Self-portrait at the Royal Academy in
London dated about 1787 (Pl 8). (16) The eyebrows and habit of forming the eyes can also be seen in the self-portrait at the age of 21 in the family group with his wife Margaret and their first daughter Mary of about 1748 in the National Gallery. (Pl 9), where the head is of a comparable size to that of the miniature. (17)
What stylistic similarities are there between the miniature and other works by Gainsborough dating from the late 1730s or early 1740s? We are fortunate in that there are three small portrait drawings by him known, a pair of small ovals on vellum in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin of an unknown lady and gentleman, both of which are signed and dated 1743-44 (P1 10, Pl 11), (18) and a very damaged oval portrait of a little girl that appeared at auction in Malvern in 2008, that appears to be stylistically a little earlier (Pl 12). (19) The Dublin portraits are only slightly larger (12.2 x 10.9 cm) than the miniature self-portrait, and they have sometimes been thought to be drawings for lost oils, which would have been a similar size. The drawing of the unknown gentleman is posed three-quarters facing to our right, like the miniature self-portrait, and the sitter wears a costume very similar in style to it, wearing a long coat with a collar and a waistcoat with large buttons, five of which are undone, with a white stock or neckerchief; there are fewer large buttons undone in the boy's portrait (in fact, three) and obviously this is an oil portrait and not a drawing. None the less, there appears to be a distinct similarity in the way the eyes and lids are formed in both pencil and oil, especially since the latter displays the more linear manner of creating forms that is a feature of the artist's earlier works, in these respects it is stylistically comparable to, though obviously less accomplished than, the portrait of John Gainsborough, the artist's father, in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC. (20)
John Hayes noted that the Dublin oval drawings are 'wholly in the tradition of the 'plumbago' miniature', an outmoded refined pencil drawing style, and that they are 'executed in a meticulous technique ... the poses are a little stiff, but the heads are lively and the modelling assured and sensitive'. (21) The last observation seems an appropriate way of describing the miniature self-portrait. The portrait of the little girl (P1 12) is posed similarly, with a lively expression very close to a smile with bright eyes, but seems more tentatively and delicately handled, with shading behind the figure to give definition to the child's simple dress. (22)
Although the costume worn by the sitter in the miniature portrait (Pl 1) is similar to that of the drawing of the unknown man in Dublin, it is also true to say that, at first sight, it might be thought unusual for a picture of about 1735-40, as at this time most adult men's garments were without collars. (23) None the less, while it is true that most fashionable gentlemen's portraits at this date were collarless, and this style of dress became more common during the 1760s, there are precedents for it. It must also be remembered that provincial dress, and that worn for outdoor pursuits, was likely not to reflect the latest London fashions worn by the Ton. For example, the dress of a marine veteran around 1740, as revealed by Hogarth's famous portrait of Captain Thomas Coram, might include a wide-collared coat over large-buttoned waistcoat, with a stock. The central, rather plump, standing figure in Hogarth's Lord George Graham in his cabin (P1 13) of about 1745 is not shown in any sort of uniform but in a day coat with a small collar, long stock and waistcoat. (24) Country dress in Hogarth's pictures sometimes displays similar attributes. His portrait group of Ashley Cowper and his wife and daughter inscribed 1731 (Tate Britain) appears to show Cowper in a collared jacket, waistcoat and stock. (25)
Other artists of this period occasionally depict an evidently unfashionable but practical country/provincial costume. George Knapton's portrait of John, 1st Earl Spencer with his son and negro servant Caesar Shaw of about 1745 (Althorp) shows Spencer in a big-buttoned jacket with collar and wearing a high waistcoat--though no stock--and the negro servant is similarly attired but with a stock. Francis Hayman's Grant Family of about 1740-42 (private collection) clearly show's John Grant (d 1746) wearing a long coat with collar and high waistcoat; (26) although the male figure to the right of the panelled interior of his Gascoigne Family of about 1740 (Huntington Art Collections, San Marino, CA) is similarly attired, the other gentlemen are collarless; (27) and the figure sometimes identified as the Duke of Newcastle next to Hayman (seated on the floor) at the left of The artist and his friends of about 1745-48 (Pl 14) also shows a collared jacket with big buttons over waistcoat and a stock. (28) Further examples of this form of dress may also be found in the work of Arthur Devis in the 1740s, for example, Mr and Mrs Richard Bull of Ongar, Essex dated 1747 (Institute of Fine Arts, New York University). And, of course, as has been stated above, Gainsborough himself depicted a man in this style of dress in the Dublin drawing at this time.
From this it is possible to say, even though dating portraits on grounds of costume can be hazardous, that an artistically precocious boy in provincial Suffolk around 1735-45 could be wearing clothes that emulated adult male dress of the time. (29) Moreover, it needs to be stressed that the sitter is here dressed as a young adult, as he is in the slightly more fashionable costume of the Self Portrait with palette, and is not wearing the frilled collar so often seen in children's portraits in the mid-18th century. In the instance of the present miniature, the child sitter wears clothes that are intended to place him firmly in the adult world as a (very) young man with a trade and ready for business on the same terms as adults.
Rica Jones has remarked, 'Technical analysis can be very useful as a confirmation of stylistic analysis or in its own right if one has significant technical knowledge of a painter's work in a particular period. We are short of both for Gainsborough at the age of ten.' (30) Some conclusions may be drawn, however, from the fact that the oak panel is the original canvas support, in that the picture is far too small ever to have had a stretcher, (31) and bears on the verso the painted word 'Gainsboro' in a tight and childish hand (Pl 15), which is evidently contemporary with the oak panel. (32) This is a style of abbreviation fairly common in the 18th century, and more importantly reflects the Suffolk pronunciation. (33) This is not in itself evidence that it is an early signature, even if the lettering looks rather like that of a mature child; however, the signature on the oval drawing of the unknown man in Dublin (and that on its companion of the unknown woman), which is that of the 16-year-old Gainsborough, shows--despite the maturation of handwriting from a child to an adult forms of individual letters that are similar Pl 16, P1 17). More importantly, following a most useful suggestion by Frances Harris, a handwriting specialist at the British Library, photographs of the signatures on the two Dublin drawings enlarged ten times (34) indicate that, contrary to what has been previously noted, at some later date the 'ugh' of the name has been added by another hand. (35) The abbreviated 'signature' on this miniature self-portrait (36) is consistent with a signature on at least one other work, since it is known that the 20-year-old Gainsborough signed and dated a painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art with a similar but even shorter form of his name: 'Gainsbro 1747'. (37)
It is only to be expected that there is no brushwork of the feathery kind as seen in works by the mature Gainsborough in so early a picture, (38) but technical expertise on some of Gainsborough's early works has been undertaken by Rica Jones, who has examined this portrait and, inter alia, drew attention to the skill in painting the linen stock and buttons (Pl 18) and the linear formation of the eyes:
There is a certain dash in the brushwork, most visible ... [in] the linen stock and buttons tinder low magnification. Both showed a hand that was quick and a brush that was skilful and descriptive. The eyes, viewed close up, are depicted with linear brushwork. Viewed at the low magnifications of a stereo microscope, the pigments looked correct for the period in type and particle-size. (39)
The blue of the jacket, certainly an unstable early form of Prussian Blue, (40) a pigment known to have been used by the young Gainsborough, has faded unevenly, one of the characteristics of organic Prussian Blue over tinge. The buttons may have orpiment in the mixture, a yellow pigment that occurs in the Self-portrait with palette; (41) however, apparently orpiment does not occur in the painted fictive gold frame where 'Naples Yellow' has been identified. (42) Dr Nicholas Eastaugh has also examined the miniature (see n32) and concluded his report on the pigment samples he took by saying, Although it would have been possible to find indigo and lead tin yellow on a painting of the late 1730s, in practice what has been found [on the miniature self-portrait]--Naples yellow and the early form of Prussian blue--are entirely typical.' (43)
There are several pentimenti in the shaping of the head and the hair (Pl 19) implying the work of a gifted but relatively inexperienced artist. Similarly, light cleaning and conservation (involving the removal of two areas of later over-paint either side of the neck) has revealed pentimenti in the placing of the right shoulder and upper sleeve (Pl 18). (44) There is a very fine drying craquelure in the face, possibly due to walnut oil (which does not yellow) being used as the medium, the consequence being that the face appears quite fresh. These are the sorts of technical features that have been noted in other early works by Gainsborough. (45)
The evidence shows that the present Self-portrait is an important example of Gainsborough's earliest work in Suffolk. It would have been painted in his birthplace, the market town of Sudbury, before his departure for London, and in what Gainsborough himself described six months before his death in the letter to Bate-Dudley of 11 March 1788 as his 'schoolboy stile'. (46)Taking all the evidence, physical and empirical, into consideration, it has a unique place in Gainsborough's oeuvre as there is no other example of Gainsborough's portrait work in oils c1736-7 presently known. It is not only the earliest self-portrait but the earliest work by the great 18th-century artist, and is possibly the youngest known self-portrait executed by an English master.
For their kindness in discussing early Gainsborough with me and for giving me the benefit of their knowledge and experience, and not least their helpful views on this miniature self-portrait, I should like to thank the Tate conservator Rica Jones; the late Sir Oliver Millar; Lindsay Stainton; Dr Brian Mien, Director of the Paul Mellon Centre; Diane Perkins, formerly Director of Gainsborough's House, Sudbury; Brian Sewell, art critic of The Evening Standard; David Wilson, former Director of the Wordsworth Trust; and art dealers Simon Dickinson; Ben Elwes; Philip Mould; Anthony Mould; Otto Nanmann; Angus Neil of Felder Fine Art; and the conservator Rebecca Gregg. I also wish to thank Professor Aileen Riheiro, Dr Martin Postle, Elizabeth Einberg, Frances Harris (British Library), and Hugh Belsey fur suggesting avenues of research.
(1) Philip Thicknesse, A Sketch of the Life and Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, Esq., Privately printed, 1788, p5. According to the author the 61 pages were written in one day, but as The English Review, 1789, vol 13, p124 commented, 'Had the writer of the sketch laid less of himself his publication would have been fully as acceptable.'
(2) Like the anecdotal and somewhat unreliable George William Fulcher, Life of Thomas Gainsborough, RA, 1856, whose book was the first attempt at a full biography of the painter. After almost a century, the most reliable biography remains William T Whitley, Thomas Gainsborough, London, 1915.
(3) The best summary of much of the recent scholarship on Gainsborough's early life and work, which includes some fascinating discoveries, is the catalogue by Lindsay Stainton and Bendor Grosvenor, 'Tom Will Be A Genius'--New Landscapes by the Young Thomas Gainsborough, exh cat., Philip Mould Ltd, London 2009.
(4) Most recently by Rica Jones and Martin Postle, 'Gainsborough in his Painting Room' in Gainsborough, exh cat., ed Michael Rosenthal and Martin Myrone, London, Tate Gallery, 2002, p26.
(5) A Corri, 'Gainsborough's Early Career: New Documents and Two Portraits', Burlington Magazine, CXXV (1983), pp212-216; also Adrienne Corri, The Search for Gainsborough, London, 1984, pp199-201. Corri has shown that payments were made in 1735 by Gainsborough's patron Claude Fonnereau (of Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich), to one Francis Wynantz. Wynantz was presumably one of these itinerant artists who passed on knowledge of oil techniques to the young artist (for technical information in some early works see Rica Jones, 'Gainsborough's materials and methods: A "remarkable way to make paint sparkle'", Apollo, August 1997, pp19-26, esp pp25-26). Gainsborough is stated in all the literature to have been influenced by the 17th-century landscape artist Jan Wijnants (1620/5-1684) and compositionally Gainsborough's early landscapes are influenced by his work. However, it seems more probable that Gainsborough, who is said to have added figures to landscapes by Jan Wijnants (see Ellis Waterhouse, Gainsborough, London 1958, p13), actually added them to pictures completed in Suffolk by Francis Wynantz (see Judy Egerton, National Gallery. Catalogues: The British School, London, 1998, pp72-79, NG925, esp n18), and that Francis Wynantz, or Wynants, who may possibly have been a relative of the earlier painter, may have had his surname 'anglicized' or more probably phonetically spelled once in England. Brian Sewell has kindly drawn my attention to the existence, in the Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery reserve collection (not included in the catalogue published in 2004 by the Public Catalogue Foundation), of a picture bequeathed by George Bentlif in 1897 signed 'J Wynan ...' (listed on p50 in the 1976 Foreign Paintings Catalogue, compiled by Susan Legouix) of a 'Landscape with a River and a Bridge' which is almost certainly by Francis Wynantz, and which is stylistically similar to known early Gainsborough landscapes; he has also kindly informed me that another example may be found in the bequest by Josip Juraj Strossmayer in 1884 of his collection of old masters to his eponymous museum in Zagreb, Croatia.
(6) See Stainton and Grosvenor, p10, and repr colour fig. 2, pll. It was previously reproduced in black and white in Gainsborough's House Review 1997/98, p1, courtesy of Felder Fine Art, London, in an advertisement for the Simon R Gillespie Studio, Dondon, where it was also dated c1744. The present author would suggest, from the tentative handling of the paint, that this dates from as early as 1735-7 when the artist was still in Sudbury, Suffolk.
(7) Whitley, p5 (no source given). Later in his book (pp296-301) Whitley discusses the letter to Bate-Dudley written by Gainsborough only months before his death on 11 March 1788 (only published in full on 23 April 1789, and transcribed in The Letters of Thomas Gainsborough, ed John Hayes, New Haven & London, 2004, pp168-169, no. 104) in which the artist says it was the landscape in the National Gallery, NG925, Cornard Wood, near Sudbury, Suffolk, that 'was the means of my father sending me to London'. For the dating of this landscape, see Egerton, pp72-79, n3; however, the reappearance of an early autograph study for the picture, evidently painted before the National Gallery picture when the artist was still in Sudbury, which was on the London art market in 2007, and exhibited in 2009 on loan from a private collection, has clarified the confusion scholars have had over Gainsborough's own comment on the dating of the National Gallery's masterpiece, '... begun before I left school ...', and is convincingly discussed by Stainton and Grosvenor, pp. 9-16, Exhibit 1, where it was dated about 1740.
(8) Stainton and Grosvenor comment (p17) that given the Gainsborough family's money problems at that time, and the fact that the 12-year old boy was sent to London in 1740 to secure success as an English artist, 'we must take at face value those early stories of Gainsborough's prodigious talent'.
(9) Lawrence's Auctioneers Ltd, Bletchingley, Surrey, 7 June 2005, Lot 1522. It was catalogued as '19th Century oil on canvas, laid down on panel, miniature portrait of a boy wearing a blue jacket'. No other details were stated. The auctioneers were unable to provide details of the provenance of the portrait after the sale, except that it apparently formed part of a deceased estate. A 19th-century date is technically impossible, as will be discussed below.
(10) in the Harris Museum, Preston, is a set of oval portraits by Arthur Devis, interesting in this context too because they are painted on canvas laid down on card or canvas, of members of his family all executed about 1742: his father Anthony Devis, his brother Anthony Devis, and his half-brother John Devis. They are reproduced without frames in the exhibition catalogue Polite Society by Arthur Devis 1712-1787: Portraits of the English Country Gentleman and his Family, Harris Museum, Preston, 1983, cats. 63, 64 and 65, p121; photographs in the Witt Library show all of these in black (presumably ebonized) oval frames similar to the present frame. I am most grateful to Dr Amanda Draper of the Harris Museum for confirming in an email of 2 July 2010 that one of the frames bears a stamp: 'It is very unclear, but is feasibly PARR--the lettering that I can see appear to be capitals in the style of the image you sent me.'
(11) See Rosenthal and Myrone, pp4445, cat. 1. Subsequent to its first publication by Corri, the picture was acquired by Felder Fine Art, London, and purchased in 2000 by a private collector; it subsequently returned to the art market and was resold to another private collector. It has been suggested to the present author by the art critic Brian Sewell that this picture may not be a self-portrait by the young Gainsborough, as the facture of the work, its lack of fluency in the drawing, the slightly stilted pose, and coarse handling of the paint are relatively incompetent compared with the present miniature, the early portrait drawings in Dublin, and the painterly fluency of some of the early landscapes.
(12) There is no evidence for Adrienne Corri's assertion, which is quoted in the 2002 Tate exhibition catalogue entry, that this was painted c1737-38. The costume is discussed below,
(13) I am grateful to Rica Jones, Senior Conservator of Paintings at Tate Britain, who is an expert on early Gainsborough, for first examining the portrait on 25 August 2005 and her analysis of the features of the boy in the miniature; and for her subsequent invaluable comments on the work in her letter to the present writer dated 15 September 2005, all of which were endorsed by the late Sir Oliver Millar in a letter to the present writer dated 20 July 2006.
(14) Malcolm Cormack, The Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, Cambridge, 1991, pp32-33, no. 1.
(15) Rosenthal and Myrone, pp74-75, cat. 26.
(16) Rosenthal and Myrone, p276, cat. 171.
(17) In Ellis Waterhouse, Gainsborough, 1958, new edn, 1966, no. 296, colour frontispiece, it was dated to about 1751-52, which is now known to be too late, but until the appearance of the Self-portrait with palette was sometimes thought to be probably the earliest known self-portrait by Gainsborough in oils.
(18) See John Hayes, The Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough, 2 vols, London 1970, I, p109, cat. no. 1, and repr II, pl 1 (man); I, p110 and repr II, p12 (woman).
(19) Sold at Philip Serrell Auctioneers, Malvern, 10 July 2008, lot 181 (680 [pounds sterling]) as 'Circle of Thomas Gainsborough'. It was apparently of similar dimensions, but had several small holes and was a little faded and somewhat stained. The auctioneers informed the present writer after the sale that they understood that it bad been bought by Hugh Belsey for Gainsborough's House, Sudbury. I am grateful to Diane Perkins, the former Director of Gainsborough's House, for confirming that this was not the case. Its present whereabouts is unfortunately unknown.
(20) See Hugh Belsey, Gainsborough's Family, exh cat., Gainsborough's House, Sudbury, 1988, pp56-57, cat. 4, where dated to about 1746, but probably painted two or three years earlier. The small oval oil portrait of a girl dressed in pink attributed to the young Gainsborough, and dated to the early 1740s, with Felder Fine Art, London in 2005, should probably be dated about 1746-47 as the
handling is more assured.
(21) Hayes, Drawings, I, p109.
(22) The oval drawing acquired by Hugh Belsey when he was still Director of Gainsborough's House in 2003 and identified by a later inscription on the verso as Anne Lynch by Gainsborough aged 16, was examined and discussed in November 2010 by the present writer and Diane Perkins, subsequent Director of Gainsborough's House, but is evidently not by Gainsborough, being poorly modelled in a tight and stylistically different hand to the two Dublin and the ex-Malvern drawings.
(23) It was Martin Postle who first suggested I research the costume of this miniature self-portrait, and Professor Aileen Ribeiro and Rica Jones who directed me to find examples of men's dress from the 1730s and 1740s that looked like the costume worn in the miniature self-portrait. I am grateful to Edward Bigden for assisting me with a most fruitful search through all the boxes on British 18th-century artists in the Witt Library.
(24) The picture celebrated Graham's victory in the Bridgewater, in 1745 against the Dutch. He died in 1747. There are several styles of men's costume represented in tile composition, official, fashionable and provincial.
(25) Tare Britain T00809.
(26) Brian Allen, Francis Hayman, New Haven and London, 1987, checklist no. 21.
(27) Allen, no. 19.
(28) Allen, no. 25.
(29) In the Musee d'Art et d'Histoire, Geneva, there is a self-portrait by the Swiss artist Barthelemy du Pan with his young family dated 1745 (the year after he was in London) which shows him in a collared coat, waistcoat and stock but his children in old-fashioned skirts.
(30) Letter from Rica Jones to the present writer dated 15 September 2005.
(31) it is difficult to be sure on this very small scale, but the diagonal flecking across the oak (clearly seen when the panel is viewed horizontally, rather like a shoal of fish), shows medullary rays, suggesting a quarter-sawn panel of oak. In her letter of 15 September 2005, Rica Jones concluded that the canvas 'must have had a solid support form the beginning, as it is too small for a stretcher. I think it is the original; the edges of the painting, examined through the microscope, looked intact to me'. This conclusion was confirmed by a technical examination, commissioned in October 2009 from Dr Nicholas Eastaugh of Art Access & Research (UK) Ltd, London, and written up on 16 April 2010 (AAR0042), of which more details are given in footnotes below.
(32) Dr Eastaugh in his technical report pointed out that the 'signature' on the verso is apparently not written in iron gallo-tannate ink or one based largely upon a flame carbon (often called 'India' or 'Chinese' Ink) which one would expect, but in a concocted medium, 'a form of paint rather than an ink sensu stricto', that includes lead white.
(33) Belsey, p9, points to evidence that the name was spelt in the 16th century as 'Gaynysborowe'. The ending 'borowe' would have the same sound as 'boro' when spoken. The earliest reference to the Gainsborough family in Sudbury, in the 1660s, provides evidence that Gainsborough's surname was written, again possibly reflecting the Suffolk accent, as 'Gainsberry' (Suffolk Record Office, Bury St Edmunds branch, ref. EE 501/4/1, discussed in Allen W Berry, 'The Gainsboroughs and the Freedom of Sudbury', in Gainsborough's House Review 199Y94, pp4345). Belsey, cat. 6, p60, also points out that the portrait of Gainsborough's older brother John, known as 'Scheming Jack' in a private collection, is inscribed 'Gainsborow'.
(34) I am grateful to Niamh MacNally and Marie McFeely at the National Gallery of Ireland for their kindness and co-operation in the Spring of 2006 in producing these enlarged photographs.
(35) This information was provided by the present author to Stainton and Grosvenor, but curiously overlooked in their footnote 72.
(36) Rica Jones pointed out in her letter of 15 September 2005 that 'the child who wrote "Gainsboro" on the back, had connection with the painting', but cautioned that 'the child might just have been identifying the painting as of himself or as his possession, rather than giving evidence of authorship'.
(37) Hayes, II, pp312, 349-50, cat. 22: Wooded landscape with peasant resting beside a winding track, figures and animals (WP Wilstach Collection). The signature, with a long 'S', is reproduced on p350. The recently rediscovered View of Ipswich, now on loan to Gainsborough's House, Sudbury, which was painted around this date and is stylistically akin to the Philadelphia landscape is unsigned (or Hugh Belsey would have been unable to state that it was not by him); see Stainton and Grosvenor, pp30-38, Exhibit 4.
(38) This was the view of the late Sir Oliver Millar in his letter to the present writer of 20 July 2006: 'Inevitably there is nothing of the mature Gainsborough in the execution, but the features could become those we know so well.'
(39) The picture was examined by Rica Jones under stereomicroscope and in ultraviolet light, at the Tate Gallery, London, on 25 August 2005. At that time a full technical examination was not undertaken, but this was commissioned in October 2009 from Dr Nicholas Eastaugh, who undertook pigment analysis on the 'signature' on the verso, and from two microscopic areas of the portrait, the results of which (report AAR0042, 16 April 2010) indicate that there is nothing technically incompatible with a dating from the late 1730s.
(40) Rica Jones in her letter of 15 September 2005 felt that the blue of the boy's jacket was either indigo or Prussian blue; Dr Nicholas Eastaugh reported that 'the paint samples indicated characteristics with what is sometimes known as "early" or "handmade" Prussian blue'.
(41) Dr Eastaugh concluded that this suggestion, made by Rica Jones in her letter of 15 September 2005, could not be proven.
(42) Dr Eastaugh reported that 'while Lead tin yellow was still being used in the earlier eighteenth century ... examples are extremely rare' because 'Naples yellow' 'had already reached a position of dominance over it'.
(43) For Dr Easthaugh's report, see n31 above.
(44) Under ultra-violet light these two slightly later over-painted areas either side of the neck became more clearly visible; these were sensitively removed when the picture was conserved in the summer of 2007 by Rebecca Gregg.
(45) See Jones, Apollo, August 1997, esp pp25-26; also, Rica Jones and Martin Postle, 'Gainsborough in his Painting Room' in Rosenthal and Myrone; and the technical notes in the entries for Gainsborough in Egerton.
(46) Hayes, Letters, pp168-169, no. 104.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||British Art Journal|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2011|
|Previous Article:||Understanding the framing of the Turner Bequest.|
|Next Article:||Two 'Allegrain' landscapes at Temple Newsam.|