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Title: Gainsborough
Author: Rothschild, Max
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Gainsborough" ***

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By Max Rothschild


ARTIST.                 AUTHOR.

VELAZQUEZ.              S. L. BENSUSAN.
REYNOLDS.               S. L. BENSUSAN.
TURNER.                 C. LEWIS HIND.
ROMNEY.                 C. LEWIS HIND.
GREUZE.                 ALYS EYRE MACKLIN.
BELLINI.                GEORGE HAY.
LEIGHTON.               A. LYS BALDRY.
RAPHAEL.                PAUL G. KONODY.
TITIAN.                 S. L. BENSUSAN.
MILLAIS.                A. LYS BALDRY.
LUINI.                  JAMES MASON.
VAN DYCK.               PERCY M. TURNER.
RUBENS.                 S. L. BENSUSAN.
WHISTLER.               T. MARTIN WOOD.
HOLBEIN.                S. L. BENSUSAN.
CHARDIN.                PAUL G. KONODY.
MEMLINC.                W. H. J. & J. C. WEALE.
CONSTABLE.              C. LEWIS HIND.
RAEBURN.                JAMES L. CAW.
LAWRENCE.               S. L. BENSUSAN.
DÜRER.                  H. E. A. FURST.
MILLET.                 PERCY M. TURNER.
WATTEAU.                C. LEWIS HIND.
HOGARTH.                C. LEWIS HIND.
MURILLO.                S. L. BENSUSAN.
WATTS.                  W. LOFTUS HARE.
INGRES.                 A. J. FINBERG.
COROT.                  SIDNEY ALLNUTT.

_Others in Preparation._

PLATE I.--MRS. SIDDONS. (Frontispiece)

     This famous portrait of Mrs. Siddons was painted in 1784.
     It is one of the chief ornaments in the National Gallery,
     London. It represents the celebrated actress in her
     twenty-ninth year. The picture was purchased in 1862 from
     a relative of Mrs. Siddons.

[Illustration: PLATE I.--MRS. SIDDONS.]








  I. Painting in England before Gainsborough                  11

 II. Gainsborough's Early Life--Ipswich and Bath              25

III. Gainsborough's Life in London--Last Years and Death      46

 IV. Gainsborough's Works                                     65



   I. Mrs. Siddons                                      Frontispiece
        At the National Gallery, London
  II. Ralph Schomberg, M.D.                                   14
        At the National Gallery, London

 III. Queen Charlotte                                         24
        At the South Kensington Museum

  IV. "The Blue Boy"                                          34
        At Grosvenor House

   V. The Hon. Mrs. Graham                                    40
        At the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

  VI. The Duchess of Devonshire                               50
        In the collection of Earl Spencer, K.G.

 VII. Mrs. Robinson--"Perdita"                                60
        At the Wallace Collection

VIII. Miss Haverfield                                         70
        At the Wallace Collection




The British school of painting was, compared with those of the other
nations of Western Europe, the latest to develop. In Italy, Spain,
France, the Netherlands, Germany, and even Scandinavia painting and
sculpture flourished as early as the Gothic Age, and in most of these
countries the Renaissance produced a host of craftsmen whose works
still endure among the most superb creations of artistic genius. It is
now inexact to say that there was no _primitive_ period in British Art;
the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, so resplendent on
the Continent with pictures and statues reflecting the character, the
aspirations, the temperament of the respective peoples that produced
them, produced works of art also in these islands. There are ample
records of pictures having been painted in England, both religious
subjects and portraits, at a very early age, as far back even as the
reign of Henry III.; of such remote productions little has been
preserved, but there are still extant a few specimens, from the
thirteenth century onwards, as well as portraits of Henry VI., Henry
VII., and effigies of princes and earls, which cause us to mourn the
loss of a large number of paintings; they are at times grotesque and so
thoroughly bad as to be a quite negligible quantity as works of art,
though no doubt historically interesting.


     This canvas can be seen in the National Gallery, and
     represents a member of the family of Field-Marshal Duke
     Schomberg, who was killed in 1690 at the Battle of the
     Boyne. It is painted in the fashion of the time, a full
     figure in the open air, and is a very fine example of
     Gainsborough's work.

[Illustration: PLATE II.--RALPH SCHOMBERG, M.D.]

It may be stated for our purposes that until the reign of Henry VIII.
the art of painting was non-existent in England. This luxurious and
liberal monarch it was who first gave any real and discerning
encouragement to art, and the year 1526 must ever be memorable as the
one in which was laid the foundation-stone of British Art. In that year
the Earl of Arundel returned from a journey on the Continent; he was
accompanied by a young man of powerful build, "with a swarthy sensual
face, a neck like a bull, and an eye unlikely to endure contradiction."
This was Hans Holbein, who was then thirty years of age, and whose fame
had already been spread far and wide by the eloquent praises of
Erasmus. Whether the monarch appreciated the depth and subtlety of the
painter's genius better than did his own fellow-citizens of Basle, or
whether his attitude towards him was prompted by a sense of vanity and
ostentation is a question of little moment; the fact remains that he
succeeded by his favour and a pension of two hundred florins in fixing
the painter at the English court, and thus rendered an incomparable
service to his country's art. With the exception of a few lengthy
excursions abroad, Holbein lived continuously in England for
twenty-eight years, until his death of the plague in 1543.

The art of Holbein, with all his genius, with all his success and
popularity at court, does not seem to have taken root in England. The
soil was not congenial, and when the plant withered no off-shoots
remained behind; he formed no school in this country, had no pupils
capable of carrying on his work, and continuing his tradition. With
his death, the first short chapter in the history of art in Great
Britain closes like a book, and for a time it looks as though the seeds
sown by Henry VIII. were destined never to bear fruit. But one notable
result had been attained; painting had gained a place in popular
estimation, and succeeding sovereigns followed Henry's example in
attracting to England talented artists from over seas. Thus Antonio
Moro came for a brief period to the court of Mary; Lucas de Heere,
Zucchero, and Van Somer to that of Queen Elizabeth. During this reign,
for the first time, distinction is obtained by two artists of British
birth, the miniature painters Hilliard and Oliver, but they again leave
no very important followers (with the exception of the younger Oliver),
and their isolated merit had no share in the formation of a native

With the accession of Charles the First art began to take a much more
important position in the life of the nation. Charles was a man of
considerable taste and refined discernment; no longer content with
attracting artists to his court, he began to collect fine works
purchased in other countries, his example being followed by his brother
Prince Henry, by the Earl of Arundel and others among his courtiers;
thus the works of the great Italians found their way into England. The
walls of the royal palaces blazoned with the handiwork of Raphael and
Leonardo da Vinci, Correggio and Veronese, Titian and Tintoretto; from
the Netherlands came pictures by Rembrandt and Rubens, and the influx
thus started was destined to continue until England became the greatest
artistic store-house in the world.

The greatest artistic event of the reign of Charles I.--the most
far-reaching, indeed, in the whole history of art in this country--was
the coming of Van Dyck in 1632, for to his influence is directly due
the birth and development of our native school of painting culminating
in the golden period of the following century.

Van Dyck was thirty-three years of age when he came to England; his
talent was at its highest point of perfection; he was almost
immediately attached to the court among the royal painters, and his
success was rapid and unequalled. The king and queen and their children
sat to him again and again; there was no courtier or noble lady but
wished her portrait to be painted by the fashionable and fascinating
artist, and the habit of portrait-painting became so firmly established
that neither the revolution, nor the Puritan régime, which followed the
death of Charles I., were able to eradicate it.

Van Dyck's commissions were so numerous that it became impossible for
him to execute the whole of them with his own hand; Van Dyck, as his
master Rubens had done in Antwerp, filled his studio with assistants
and pupils whom he trained, and who frequently painted the more
unimportant portions of his portraits, such as draperies and
background. In this manner a considerable number of men received
tuition of the utmost value, and, though many of them were foreigners,
drawn to London by the reports of successful brothers of the brush, a
school was at last founded which was destined to develop into the
glorious English school of painting of the eighteenth century.

The rule of the Protector arrested for a moment this development, but
the impulse given was too strong to be permanently stopped, and with
the Restoration portrait-painting flourished again with increasing
vigour. The men who attained success were still foreigners for the most
part, and contented themselves with being weaker reflections of Van
Dyck. Sitters demanded portraits in the manner of the master, and no
painter had the strength of character to stray from a close and often
slavish imitation. The best of them, like Lely and Kneller, both
Dutchmen, painted some good portraits but entirely devoid of

There arose, however, about this period a painter, British born, whose
strong personality refused to bow down and worship the popular idol,
while fully realising his merits. Hogarth dared to look at Nature with
his own eyes instead of through Van Dyck's spectacles, and despite
opposition insisted on painting things and people as he saw them. He
refused to give his models the flattery to which they were accustomed,
and his portraits were accordingly not so popular as his conversation
pieces. But he had broken the spell: he had proved that it was possible
to be a good painter without copying Van Dyck to the letter; and
although his realism was not imitated by his successors he secured for
them that measure of independence without which no art can attain to

Such is, briefly, a statement of the history of painting in this
country until the middle of the eighteenth century. The remarkable fact
appears that until this comparatively late period there is no native
school worthy of the name. But about this time there is a complete
change, and there arises simultaneously a whole group of men who form a
genuinely national school of the greatest brilliancy. British genius
asserts itself at last, and for the first time, as a distinct and
independent entity, acknowledging its indebtedness to the great masters
of the world, but insisting upon its own personal view and temperament.
These men accept the lessons of Van Dyck, of Rembrandt, of Raphael, and
of Titian; but they say to these noble ancestors: "You are great
masters, but Nature is also a great mistress." It is not surprising,
then, that side by side with portrait-painting, several will turn their
attention to landscape, a branch of painting which hitherto had been
completely neglected in this country, and in this branch also they will
attain no small measure of success.


     Gainsborough painted many portraits of George the Third's
     consort. The bust here reproduced is in the Victoria and
     Albert Museum. It is a replica, somewhat less brilliant in
     colour, of the picture at Windsor Castle.


Of all the artists of this golden epoch, which produced such men as
Reynolds and Raeburn, Romney, Hoppner, Lawrence, and Turner, the most
brilliant and the most versatile was undoubtedly Thomas Gainsborough.



Thomas Gainsborough was born at Sudbury in Suffolk in May 1727; he was
thus four years younger than Reynolds, thirteen years younger than
Wilson. He came from a respectable family of old standing and in
comfortable circumstances. His father, John Gainsborough, was a
clothier by trade, and of his mother little is known save that she was
a gentle and kind woman, very indulgent to her children. They had four
daughters and five sons, of whom Thomas was the youngest. Thomas was
far from diligent at school; he filled his copy-books with sketches,
and was not loth to play the truant in order to get into the woods and
meadows, where he would sit drawing trees, flowers, or cattle. A story
is even told of his having forged his father's name to a note asking
the schoolmaster to "give Tom a holiday." When his father saw the
forged note he exclaimed, "The boy will come to be hanged!" but when he
was shown the sketches which his son had made during his hours of
stolen liberty he changed his verdict to "The boy will be a genius!"

Whatever there may be of truth in this pretty story, a genius Tom
turned out to be, and he certainly showed the most remarkable talent
when quite a boy. There is a picture by him, painted many years later,
the history of which shows that even at this early age he was capable
of drawing a man's head rapidly and with great fidelity to the model.
The picture is called "Tom Peartree's Portrait," and is a reminiscence
of an incident in the painter's childhood. He was sitting one day in
his father's garden, concealed by bushes, sketching an old pear tree,
when he caught sight of the head of a peasant looking over the wall at
the ripe fruit. The expression of eager cupidity in the man's face
amused the boy, who included it in his sketch; he afterwards showed it
to his father, who recognised the peasant and was able, much to the
latter's confusion, to tax him with the intention of stealing his

Such anecdotes serve to show the artist's extraordinary facility with
his pencil even as a child, when he had as yet had no training or
tuition of any kind. The same valuable quality is evidenced in the
works of his maturity, by the marvellous freedom of his technique, and
the brilliancy of his brushwork.

His father showed no opposition to his obvious vocation, and at the age
of fourteen sent him to London to study painting. It is uncertain
whether he went direct to the studio of Hayman, or whether he worked
first for a while with Gravelot. Hayman was a portrait-painter of
ability, a companion and to some extent an imitator of Hogarth; with
him young Gainsborough learned the rudiments of his art, the use of
brush and colours, and the principles of composition; but Hayman could
teach him little more, and after staying with him four years he
returned to Sudbury. It was not long after his return home that he got
married, an event which is amusingly related by Cunningham: "It
happened, in one of his pictorial excursions amongst the woods of
Suffolk, that he sat down to make a sketch of some fine trees, with
sheep reposing below, and some wood-doves roosting above, when a young
woman entered unexpectedly upon the scene, and was at once admitted
into the landscape and the feelings of the artist. The name of this
young lady was Margaret Burr; she was of Scottish extraction and in her
sixteenth year, and to the charms of good sense and good looks she
added a clear annuity of two hundred pounds. These are matters which no
writer of romance would overlook, and were accordingly felt by a young,
an ardent, and susceptible man: nor must I omit to tell that country
rumour conferred other attractions--she was said to be the natural
daughter of one of our exiled princes; nor was she when a wife and a
mother desirous of having this circumstance forgotten. On an occasion
of household festivity, when her husband was high in fame, she
vindicated some little ostentation in her dress by whispering to her
niece, now Mrs. Lane, 'I have some right to this; for you know, my
love, I am a prince's daughter.' Prince's daughter or not she was wooed
and won by Gainsborough, and made him a kind, a prudent, and a
submissive wife. The courtship was short. The young pair left Sudbury,
leased a small house at a rent of six pounds a year in Ipswich, and
making themselves happy in mutual love, conceived they were settled for

It was at Ipswich, and not long after his arrival there, that
Gainsborough made the acquaintance of Philip Thicknesse, then Governor
of Landguard Fort, a man who was to exercise considerable influence
upon the artist's life, and to whom we owe much information concerning
him. Thicknesse, although he afterwards quarrelled with the painter,
and slandered him in a venomous pamphlet, was at first a highly useful
friend and not ungenerous patron. Upon his commission Gainsborough
painted what was probably his first important landscape; it was a view
of Landguard Fort, with figures and sheep in the foreground, and the
sea, with the estuary of the Stour, in the distance. This picture was
unfortunately destroyed through being hung upon a wall built with
mortar mixed with sea water; but we have an excellent engraving of it
by Major, and this shows the original to have been a very fine
composition. As remuneration Thicknesse gave the artist thirty guineas,
and lent him a violin upon which Gainsborough soon acquired
considerable proficiency. He retained through life the taste for music
of which we find in this incident the first evidence; indeed he seems
to have been at least as proud of his achievements in this direction as
he was of the creations of his magic brush.

Through the protection of Thicknesse Gainsborough had at this time no
lack of commissions for both landscapes and portraits. Of the latter,
the most important is that of Admiral Vernon in the National Portrait
Gallery, in which the red coat is painted with extreme care. To this
period belongs the Miss Hippisley, in the collection of Sir Edward
Tennant, and also the heads of his two daughters in the Forster
collection at South Kensington Museum.


     This world-famous picture, which belongs to the Duke of
     Westminster, at Grosvenor House, is a portrait of Jonathan
     Buttall--the son of a wealthy ironmonger who lived in London
     at the corner of King Street and Greek Street, Soho--in "Van
     Dyck" costume.

     Probably painted at Bath about 1772.

[Illustration: PLATE IV.--THE BLUE BOY]

Most of Gainsborough's biographers have treated Thicknesse with but
scant justice. No doubt he was a self-satisfied and overbearing man,
who had the failing of wishing to manage the lives of those who came
into contact with him, and who was equally prompt to take offence, and
to offend in retaliation those who would not be led by his dictatorial
advice. But in the case of Gainsborough, he certainly rendered him the
most inappreciable services, and in the quarrel that followed the
artist was probably almost as much to blame as the patron. Be that as
it may, it was on Thicknesse's initiative, and on his initiative alone,
that Gainsborough removed from Ipswich to Bath in the year 1758. The
importance of this move cannot be overrated, and posterity, no less
than the painter himself, owes to Philip Thicknesse a considerable debt
of gratitude for having been instrumental in bringing it to pass. The
horizon at Ipswich was strictly limited; and although no doubt
Gainsborough's genius was inborn, he would probably, had he remained in
Suffolk, never have developed into the superb painter who must ever be
one of the most dazzling stars of the artistic universe. We shall have
occasion later to return to this change of scene and to its influence
on Gainsborough's life-work.

It was Thicknesse then who persuaded Gainsborough to leave Ipswich and
to settle at Bath. Much to the terror of frugal Mrs. Gainsborough, the
painter, still acting on his patron's guidance, took a house in the
Circus at the annual rental of £50. Thicknesse had many friends at
Bath, and to them he warmly recommended his protégé. Whether it was
through the influence of Thicknesse, or by the sole force of the
artist's own genius, success was soon forthcoming and sitters flocked
to his studio. His previous charge of five guineas for a half-length
portrait was almost immediately raised to eight, and before very long
his patrons became so numerous that he was able to demand no less than
forty guineas for a half-length, and one hundred guineas for a
full-length, very high prices for those days.

During his stay at Bath Gainsborough devoted much of his time and
energy to music; he acquired many musical instruments of various kinds,
and tried his hand at all of them. The viol da gamba was apparently
his favourite, and in one of his letters to his friend Jackson of
Exeter he mentions that he possesses five of these instruments. He
heard Giardini, the then unrivalled violinist, and had no rest till he
purchased the very instrument that the Italian played on, "but," says
Jackson, "seemed much surprised that the music remained with Giardini."
In the same way he acquired Abel's viol da gamba; having heard Fischer,
he bought a hautboy, then suddenly developed enthusiasm for the harp,
and thus passing from instrument to instrument he never had the
perseverance to play any one of them with any degree of perfection. In
this connection Jackson relates an amusing anecdote of one of his most
extravagant acquisitions: "Upon seeing a theorbo in a picture of Van
Dyck's he concluded (perhaps because it was finely painted) that the
theorbo must be a fine instrument. He recollected to have heard of a
German professor, and ascending _per varios gradus_ to his garret,
found him there at dinner upon a roasted apple, and smoking a pipe.

     'I am come,' says he, 'to buy your lute. Come, name your
     price, and here is your money.'

     'I cannot shell my lude!'

     'No; not for a guinea or two, but by G-- you must sell it.'

     'My lude ish wert much monnay! It ish wert ten guineas.'

     'That it is. See, here is the money!'

     'Well, if I musht; but you will not take it away yourself!'

     'Yes, yes. Good-bye----'

     (After he had gone down he came up again.)

     'I have done but half my errand. What is your lute worth if
     I have not your book?'

     'Whad poog, Maishter Cainsporough?'

     'Why, the book of airs you have composed for the lute.'

     'Ah, py Cot, I can never part wit my poog!'


     This portrait of the Hon. Mary Graham (second daughter of
     Charles, ninth Lord Cathcart) is in the National Gallery of
     Scotland. Another portrait of the same lady shown in the
     dress of a housemaid, standing in a doorway with a broom, is
     supposed to be a rejected design for this picture, and is in
     the collection of the Earl of Carlisle. Her husband
     afterwards became Lord Lynedoch.

     This picture was painted in 1775-1776, was locked up in a
     London store for fifty years, but fortunately recovered.

[Illustration: PLATE V.--THE HON. MRS. GRAHAM]

     'Pooh! you can make another at any time. This is the book I
     mean' (putting it in his pocket).

     'Ah, py Cot, I cannot!'

     'Come, come; here's another ten guineas for your book. So,
     once more good-day t'ye.' (Descends again; and again comes
     up.) 'But what use is your book to me if I don't understand
     it? And your lute--you may take it again if you won't teach
     me to play on it. Come home with me and give me my first

     'I will come to-morrow.'

     'You must come now.'

     'I musht tress myshelf.'

     'For what? You are the best figure I have seen to-day.'

     'I musht be shave.'

     'I honour your beard!'

     'I musht bud on my wick.'

     'D--n your wig! Your cap and beard become you. Do you think
     if Van Dyck was to paint you he'd let you be shaved?'

"In this way he frittered away his musical talents, and though
possessed of ear, taste, and genius, he never had application enough to
learn his notes. He seemed to take the first step, the second was, of
course, out of his reach, and the summit became unattainable."

Gainsborough made many friends in Bath; mention has already been made
of William Jackson of Exeter, with whom he was in constant
correspondence, and many of the letters that passed between them are
still in existence. He became friendly with David Garrick, whose
portrait he painted several times, and another actor with whom he was
on very intimate terms was John Henderson. He remained at Bath sixteen
years, and it was probably his quarrel with Thicknesse which induced
him to migrate once more in 1774.

The true circumstances of his breaking with his earliest patron are not
easy to unravel; as is usual in such cases there are two sides to the
story, and the truth probably lies somewhere between the two. One fact
stands out clearly, namely, that there never was any considerable
friendship between Thicknesse and Mrs. Gainsborough; each was probably
jealous of the other's ascendency over the artist, and the Governor in
his account of their differences makes her appear as the instigator of
Gainsborough's behaviour towards himself, and lays practically all the
responsibility at her door.

It seems that shortly after the Gainsboroughs settled in Bath a
full-length portrait of Miss Ford, who afterwards became Thicknesse's
second wife, was painted and presented to that gentleman. All the
trouble arose through his desire to possess his own portrait as a
companion to that of his wife. We have already seen what a mania
Gainsborough had for the viol da gamba; Mrs. Thicknesse had a very fine
instrument, "made in the year 1612, of exquisite workmanship and
mellifluous tone, and which was certainly worth a hundred guineas."
This instrument Gainsborough coveted, and many a time he offered that
price for it. "One night," Thicknesse relates, "we asked him and his
family to supper with us, after which Mrs. Thicknesse, putting the
instrument before him, desired he would play one of his best lessons
upon it; this, I say, was after supper, for till poor Gainsborough had
got a little borrowed courage (such was his natural modesty), he could
neither play nor sing! He then played, and charmingly too, one of his
dear friend Abel's lessons, and Mrs. Thicknesse told him he deserved
the instrument for his reward, and desired his acceptance of it, but
said, 'At your leisure give me my husband's picture to hang by the side
of my own.'" Gainsborough was transported with delight and readily
agreed. The very next day he began the portrait, finished the head, put
in a Newfoundland dog at the sitter's feet, and roughly sketched in the
remainder of the picture. There, however, he stopped, and never
touched it again; requests, prayers, and remonstrances were in vain,
and one day in a fit of temper Gainsborough sent back the viol da gamba
to Mrs. Thicknesse, and shortly afterwards also sent the unfinished
picture just as it was. At this Thicknesse was of course much offended.
"Every time," he says, "I went into the room where that scarecrow hung
it gave me so painful a sensation that I protest it often turned me
sick, and in one of those sick fits I desired Mrs. Thicknesse would
return the picture to Mr. Gainsborough. This she consented to do,
provided I would permit her to send with it a card, expressing her
sentiments at the same time, to which I am sorry to say I too hastily
consented. In that card she bid him take his brush, and first rub out
the countenance of the truest and warmest friend he ever had, and so
done, then blot him for ever from his memory."

Such is Thicknesse's own story of the quarrel, but according to Allan
Cunningham, Gainsborough did actually, without her husband's knowledge,
give Mrs. Thicknesse a hundred guineas for the viol da gamba, and then
did not consider it incumbent upon him to pay twice over by painting
the portrait. This is, however, hardly a plausible tale and the
probabilities are that Thicknesse's version is nearer the truth.
However that may be the long friendship between the artist and his
protector came to an end, and Gainsborough having taken a dislike to
Bath removed to London.



Gainsborough was forty-seven years of age when he came to settle
definitely in London; his genius had reached the highest point of its
development. This new change of scene, great and important though it
was, cannot be looked upon as being by any means so risky an
experiment as his move from Ipswich to Bath. He had by this time a
firmly established connection, and it must not be forgotten that in
those days Bath was a highly fashionable watering-place, bearing to
London very much the same relation as the French Riviera does at the
present time. Everybody who was anybody socially in the capital was a
more or less frequent visitor to Bath, and Gainsborough during his stay
there had ample opportunities to make acquaintances which were bound to
stand him in good stead when he came to London. Thicknesse, however,
even after their quarrel, could not refrain from sending him forth once
more under his particular patronage; he wrote to Lord Bateman, a peer
of little influence or importance, asking him "for both our sakes to
give him countenance and make him known, that being all which is
necessary." This sort of thing was probably quite superfluous, for
Gainsborough was by this time fully capable of holding his own even in
London. Still it remains on record that Lord Bateman did do his best
for him, and himself acquired several of his pictures.

On their first arrival in London the Gainsboroughs took quarters north
of the Oxford Road; a more central and more fashionable neighbourhood
was, however, necessary to the painter, and he very soon removed to
Schomberg House in Pall Mall. This house, which was built by the Duke
of Schomberg towards the end of the seventeenth century, was at this
time the property of the eccentric and mediocre painter John Astley, a
fellow pupil with Reynolds under Hudson. From Astley Gainsborough
rented a third of the house at £300 a year, showing that he had from
the first no anxiety as to his success in the metropolis. An
interesting circumstance in relation to this house is that some seven
years later another portion of it was occupied by the quack Dr. Graham,
who installed there his Temple of Health. In some of the strange and
not very legitimate ceremonies carried on in this "Temple," the part of
goddess of health was played by none other than Emma Lyon or Hart, who
was destined to become so famous as the lovely Lady Hamilton.
Gainsborough must have met her, and although we have no actual portrait
from his hand of this wonderfully beautiful creature, it is suggested
by Sir Walter Armstrong that she may have sat for the picture of
"Musidora" in the National Gallery, one of the very rare attempts at
the nude which Gainsborough is known to have made.


(In the collection of Earl Spencer, K.G.)

     This delightful painting, one of the gems of the Althorp
     collection, is considered to be one of the master's greatest
     achievements in full-length portraits.


In London Gainsborough came into personal contact with Sir Joshua
Reynolds, probably for the first time, although from a note of Walpole
in his catalogue of the Royal Academy of 1773 it would appear that they
had been in touch with one another some years previously, Walpole's
words being: "Gainsborough and Dance, having disagreed with Sir Joshua
Reynolds, did not send any pictures to this exhibition." When the
Academy was founded in 1768 Gainsborough was one of the original
members, and to the first four exhibitions he sent from Bath seventeen
portraits and fifteen landscapes. Then for four years, no doubt on
account of the disagreement mentioned by Walpole, he exhibited nothing
until 1777, when his name reappears in the catalogue with portraits of
the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland.

The vogue of Gainsborough was now at its height, and a long series of
portraits of royal personages began to occupy his easel. It was one of
these which, a few years later, led to his final quarrel with the Royal
Academy. To the exhibition of 1783 he had sent eight portraits and
portrait groups, including one of the three "Eldest Princesses." He
sent the frames only in the first instance, but kept back that of the
princesses, the king and queen having expressed a wish to view the
picture before it was sent to the Academy. There was then a rule of the
exhibition, one which is still in force, that full-length portraits
could not be hung on the line, and by some misapprehension, it must
have been thought by the hanging committee that this was a full-length
group. Gainsborough must have heard of the place which had been
assigned to it, and he sent the following curt note to Somerset House,
where the Royal Academy exhibitions were then held:--

     "_Mr. Gainsborough presents his Compliments to the Gentlemen
     appointed to hang the pictures at the Royal Academy, and
     begs leave to_ hint _to them that if the Royal Family, which
     he has sent for this Exhibition (being smaller than
     three-quarters), are hung above the line along with
     full-lengths, he never more, whilst he breathes, will send
     another Picture to the Exhibition._

                                   _This he swears by God._

     _Saturday morn._"

This letter did not have the desired effect, so Gainsborough withdrew
his pictures and never exhibited again. It would appear that such a
quarrel, obviously the result of a misunderstanding, could easily have
been adjusted by the President, had he felt inclined to interfere; but
Sir Joshua evidently preferred to let matters take their course, and so
the break became permanent.

There never was any great sympathy between the two men, although their
mutual admiration for each other's work was considerable. Their
characters were essentially different, and although they frequently
shared the same sitters, and had some friends in common, they lived in
a social atmosphere entirely distinct. On the other hand they never
were enemies, nor had any serious personal quarrel; at one time it even
seemed as though they might be drawn into friendship, and Gainsborough
started painting the President's portrait; this, however, shared the
fate of Thicknesse's years before and got no further than the first
sitting. Their relations were such, however, that Gainsborough was able
to call Reynolds to his death-bed, although they had probably had no
intercourse for years. The pathetic story of Gainsborough's last
illness is best told in the words of Allan Cunningham: "Though
Gainsborough was not partial to the society of literary men, he seems
to have been acquainted with Johnson and with Burke, and he lived on
terms of great affection with Richard Brinsley Sheridan. He was also a
welcome visitor at the table of Sir George Beaumont, a gentleman of
graceful manners, who lived in old English dignity, and was, besides, a
lover of literature and a painter of landscape. The latter loved to
relate a curious anecdote of Gainsborough, which marks the unequal
spirit of the man, and shows that he was the slave of wayward impulses
which he could neither repress nor command. Sir George Beaumont,
Sheridan, and Gainsborough had dined together, and the latter was more
than usually pleasant and witty. The meeting was so much to their
mutual satisfaction that they agreed to have another day's happiness,
and accordingly an early day was named when they should dine again
together. They met, but a cloud had descended upon the spirit of
Gainsborough, and he sat silent with a look of fixed melancholy, which
no wit could dissipate. At length he took Sheridan by the hand, led him
out of the room, and said, "Now, don't laugh, but listen. I shall die
soon--I know it--I feel it. I have less time to live than my looks
infer; but for this I care not. What oppresses my mind is this: I have
many acquaintances and few friends; and as I wish to have one worthy
man to accompany me to the grave, I am desirous of bespeaking you. Will
you come; aye or no?" Sheridan could scarcely repress a smile as he
made the required promise; the looks of Gainsborough cleared up like
the sunshine of one of his own landscapes; throughout the rest of the
evening his wit flowed and his humour ran over, and the minutes, like
those of the poet, winged their way with pleasure.

About a year after the promise obtained from Sheridan to attend his
funeral he went to hear the impeachment of Warren Hastings, and,
sitting with his back to an open window, suddenly felt something
inconceivably cold touch his neck above the shirt collar. It was
accompanied with stiffness and pain. On returning home he mentioned
what he felt to his wife and his niece, and on looking they saw a mark
about the size of a shilling, which was harder to the touch than the
surrounding skin, and which he said still felt cold. The application of
flannel did not remove it, and the artist becoming alarmed, consulted
one after the other the most eminent surgeons of London--John Hunter
himself the last. They all declared there was no danger; but there was
that presentiment upon Gainsborough from which none perhaps escape. He
laid his hand repeatedly on his neck and said to his sister, who had
hastened to London to see him, "If this be a cancer, I am a dead man."
And a cancer it proved to be. When this cruel disease fairly discovered
itself, it was found to be inextricably interwoven with the threads of
life, and he prepared himself for death with cheerfulness and perfect
composure. He desired to be buried near his friend Kirby in Kew
churchyard, and that his name only should be cut on his grave-stone. He
sent for Reynolds, and peace was made between them. Gainsborough
exclaimed to Sir Joshua: "We are all going to heaven, and Van Dyck is
of the company," and immediately expired--August 2nd, 1788, in the
sixty-first year of his age. Sheridan and the president attended him to
the grave.


(At the Wallace Collection)

     This portrait of the beautiful actress is one of
     Gainsborough's finest masterpieces. The lightness,
     dexterity, and transparency of the pigment is almost
     unrivalled, not only in this artist's work, but in any
     picture of the eighteenth century. It hangs in the Wallace
     Collection at Hertford House; a smaller sketch of the same
     subject is at Windsor Castle.

[Illustration: PLATE VII.--MRS. ROBINSON--"Perdita"]

Gainsborough left two daughters, whose portraits he painted several
times. The elder one, Margaret, did not marry; while the younger, Mary,
was secretly wedded in 1780 to her father's friend, Johann Christian
Fischer, the hautboy player. This marriage caused Gainsborough much
trouble; he foresaw that the musician's irritability and eccentric
behaviour on many occasions could not conduce to the happiness of his
daughter; however, to quote his own letter to his sister, Mrs. Gibbon,
"As it was too late for me to alter anything without being the cause of
total unhappiness on both sides, my _consent_, which was a mere
compliment to affect to ask, I needs must give." The father's
foreboding was only too fully justified; the union turned out very
unhappy from the first, and within a year or so husband and wife
separated. Both sisters were mentally deficient, and their aberrations
increased with age to the point of total derangement. Mary, soon after
her marriage, became subject to wild hallucinations, "perhaps the most
reasonable" (as Fulcher puts it) being that the Prince of Wales was
pursuing her with his love. After her mother's death she went to live
with her sister, whose mental condition was even worse than her own;
they would receive no visitors who did not belong to the nobility, so
that many who wished to gain admittance to the house were obliged to
assume titles which they did not possess. Margaret died about 1824, and
Mary a year or two later; before her death she insisted on presenting
to the king the portrait of Fischer, painted by her father at Bath
about forty years before; this portrait is now in the Royal Collection.

Of Gainsborough's personality and character much has no doubt been
gathered from the preceding pages. His physical appearance is familiar
from his own portraits of himself, and from that which Zoffany painted
of him. He was handsome, tall and strong, with large features and a
broad if not very high forehead; the small eyes are quick and
observant, the mouth sensitive and rather undecided. In the choice of
his friends he attached little importance to breeding and none to
social position; he was generous and open-handed to all, with money to
his relations and often indiscriminately with his works to friends or
mere acquaintances: on one occasion he gave his picture of the "Boy at
the Stile" to Colonel Hamilton (equally well known at the time as an
amateur violinist and a gentleman pugilist) for having played him a
solo on the violin; to Wiltshire, the carrier who took his pictures
from Bath to London, and who refused to take payment in money from the
artist, he presented many valuable landscapes.

Intellectually he was extremely gifted; although his education in his
youth was much neglected his letters show him to have been by no means
ignorant or uncultivated. They also bear the impress of his spontaneous
wit and keen humour; of this quality there is evidence in numerous
anecdotes. An old man of the labouring class, named Fowler, used to sit
to him at Bath; on the studio mantelpiece stood a child's skull, the
gift of a medical friend.

"Fowler, without moving his position, continually peered at it askance,
with inquisitive eye. 'Ah! Master Fowler,' said the painter, 'that is a
mighty curiosity.' 'What might it be, sir, if I may make so bold?' 'A
whale's eye,' was the grave reply. 'No, no, never say so, Muster
Gainsborough. Sir, it is a little child's skull!' 'You have hit it,'
said the wag. 'Why, Fowler, you're a witch! But what will you say when
I tell you it is the skull of Julius Cæsar when he was a little boy!'
'Laws!' cried Fowler, 'what a phenomenon!'"

Gainsborough's temper was very hasty, quite opposed to the patient
courtliness of Reynolds. When a certain peer or alderman, posing, with
boundless self-satisfaction, for his portrait, begged the artist not
to overlook the dimple in his chin, "Damn the dimple in your chin, I
will paint neither the one nor the other!" was the uncompromising

These stories, unimportant as they are, serve to give an insight into
the man's character; but whatever his personal faults and qualities may
or may not have been it is with his works that posterity is chiefly
concerned, and by them and them alone that Gainsborough must be judged.



The works of Gainsborough may be divided into three chronological
groups, just as his life was divided between three distinct localities.
But whereas there is a definite and fundamental difference between the
pictures painted at Ipswich and those of the remainder of his life,
there is not to any similar extent a determined demarkation between
his productions at Bath and those of his last and most glorious years
in London.

It has been seen that Gainsborough used palette and brush from at least
the age of fourteen, when he went to London to study with Hayman. But
the productions of this very early period are extremely difficult to
identify. The National Gallery of Ireland possesses two drawings in
pencil, portraits of a man and a woman, on each of which appears the
signature _Tho: Gainsborough fecit 1743-1744_. These, the earliest
extant attempts of Gainsborough in portraiture are hard and laboured in
execution, but the heads are well-modelled and full of character; they
must have been done in London before his return to his native Sudbury.

A similar hardness and elaborate care and attention to detail
characterises the early landscapes painted in Suffolk. The only
pictures of the old masters to which the young artist could have had
access at this period were landscapes of Dutch painters such as
Ruysdael, Hobbema, and Wynants. Their influence is obvious in his own
early productions, especially that of Wynants; the most important work
of this character is the large landscape belonging to Mr. J. D. Cobbold
of Ipswich; it is an elaborate composition, semi-classical in style,
with conventional hills in the distance, and a carefully put in group
of cattle and figures in the foreground. This is the sort of thing that
Thicknesse must have found in the painter's studio upon his first
visit, together with the portrait of Admiral Vernon (now in the
National Portrait Gallery), and others which the Governor describes as
"truly drawn, perfectly like, but stiffly painted and worse coloured."

The "Landguard Fort" was commissioned by Thicknesse shortly after the
artist's marriage and removal to Ipswich, and must therefore have been
painted between 1747 and 1750; it thus establishes an important
landmark in the painter's early years, and although the original is
unfortunately lost, it is possible from the engraving of it, which
still exists, to approximately date other early landscapes of
Gainsborough. To about the same time probably belongs the "View in
Suffolk" of the Irish National Gallery, while the "Cornard Wood" in the
National Gallery, somewhat more free in execution, is slightly later.

Of the portraits of this period very few can be traced, and it is
probable that no large number were painted. The "Admiral Vernon" has
already been mentioned and also the "Miss Hippisley" (Sir Edward
Tennant's collection), and the heads of the artist's daughters at South
Kensington. There are also in existence two half-length ovals of Mr.
Robert Edgar and Miss Katherine Edgar, the latter probably one of the
best examples of Gainsborough's later years in Suffolk. They all show
the same characteristic tightness, and a lack of that marvellous
freedom for which his later works are so remarkable.


(At the Wallace Collection)

     Portraits of children by Gainsborough are not frequent,
     although he introduced country boys and lasses into his
     landscapes with the greatest success. This example in the
     Wallace Collection possesses a charm which makes one regret
     that his youthful sitters were not more numerous.


Almost directly after his settlement at Bath the artist's manner
changed very appreciably. This was probably due chiefly to the fact
that he was able in the neighbourhood of Bath to see and study the
works of great masters of the past, and notably the great family group
by Van Dyck at Wilton House. He no doubt also had access to the fine
array of works by Rubens then hanging at Blenheim and unfortunately now
dispersed. The paintings of these masters seem to have disclosed to
Gainsborough the possibilities of his materials, and from this moment
his artistic development is rapid and decided, much more rapid than is
generally believed. Most people imagine that all his best works date
from the years of his life in London after 1774, and that the pictures
of his Bath period, previous to that year, are comparatively much
inferior. This is quite a mistake, for many of his most famous works
were in fact painted at Bath and his genius had reached its full
maturity long before he settled in Pall Mall. The fine half-length of
Miss Linley and her brother, belonging to Lord Sackville at Knole, Lord
Burton's "Lady Sussex and Lady Barbara Yelverton," the large equestrian
portrait of General Honywood, several portraits of Garrick, such
landscapes as those belonging to Lord Tweedmouth, Lord Bateman, and Mr.
Lionel Phillipps were all painted at Bath, as was probably also the
immortal "Blue Boy" itself.

One of the first of Gainsborough's sitters after his arrival at Bath
was Mr. Robert Craggs Nugent, afterwards Viscount Clare and Earl
Nugent, whose full-length portrait was the first picture ever sent by
the artist to a public exhibition. It was shown at the Spring Garden
Exhibition of the Society of Artists of Great Britain in 1761 and now
belongs to Sir George Nugent. In the following year a picture entered
in the Society's catalogue as "A whole-length portrait of a gentleman
with a gun," has been identified as the picture, now at Althorp, of
William Poyntz, brother of Georgiana, the first Countess Spencer,
herself the mother of that more famous Georgiana, Duchess of
Devonshire. Both the mother and the daughter were painted about the
same time, the latter as a little girl of five or six years of age.
These two pictures of the usual half-length size are also at Althorp.

Year by year Gainsborough continued sending portraits and landscapes to
the Society's exhibitions, the huge canvas of General Honywood on
horseback hanging there in 1765; the next year came, among others, the
full-length portrait of Garrick leaning against a bust of Shakespeare,
painted for the Town Hall, Stratford-on-Avon, where it still hangs.

In 1769 the Royal Academy opened its first exhibition; Gainsborough was
represented by four pictures, including a whole-length portrait of
Isabella, Lady Molyneux, afterwards Countess of Sefton, and another of
George Pitt, first Lord Rivers. In 1770 we find six pictures and a book
of drawings, in the following year five full-lengths and two
landscapes, and in 1772 no less than fourteen pictures, four of which
were portraits, and ten "drawings in imitation of oil-painting;" these
latter, of which a few exist, are curious productions drawn in
water-colour on thick coarse paper laid down on canvas and then
varnished; the process is not a very happy one, and the artist's fancy
for it does not appear to have been lasting.

For the four following years Gainsborough's name is absent from the
Academy catalogues from the cause already mentioned of a disagreement
with Reynolds as recorded by Walpole. But during this time Gainsborough
no doubt continued to turn out "heads" in great numbers, and not a few
full-lengths, to say nothing of landscapes of varying size and
importance. Several of these half-lengths are in the National Portrait
Gallery and the National Gallery, while a considerable number are to be
found in private collections.

Sir Walter Armstrong, in his monumental work on Gainsborough,[1] puts
forward very forcibly the theory that the famous "Blue Boy" at
Grosvenor House was painted about the year 1770 at Bath and not in 1779
in London, as has been generally supposed. It is impossible to
reproduce here his closely reasoned arguments, but his conclusion is
most probably correct that the "Blue Boy" is a masterpiece of
Gainsborough's "Bath period." It is a portrait of a certain Jonathan
Buttall, a very wealthy ironmonger who lived at the corner of King
Street and Greek Street, Soho. He is represented at full-length,
standing in a landscape, in a rich blue "Van Dyck" costume, holding a
large hat with a white feather in his right hand. The history of the
picture and the manner of its coming into the possession of the Duke of
Westminster are uncertain; it may have been sold together with the
effects of Jonathan Buttall, senior, after the death of his widow in
1796, when all his property was disposed of by public auction. It seems
to have belonged to Hoppner, who died in 1810, and who probably is the
author of the very good copy of the "Blue Boy" which is now in America,
and has sometimes been looked upon as a replica from the master's own

To this same period in the artist's career probably belongs another and
almost equally famous picture which hangs on the same walls as the
"Blue Boy." The Duke of Westminster's "Cottage Door," one of the finest
of Gainsborough's landscapes or pastoral scenes, appears to have been a
product of the last years spent at Bath, together with the great
"Watering Place" at the National Gallery; the "Rustic Children"
belonging to Lord Carnarvon and of which a small version is also in the
National collection; Mr. G. L. Basset's "Cottage Girl," and many other
landscapes of equal or lesser importance.

It is therefore fair to surmise that had Gainsborough never made his
last move from Bath to London the world's stock of artistic treasures
would in all probability not have been very much the poorer. That he
did afterwards create works of greater beauty was presumably not the
effect of his settlement in the metropolis, but merely of the
continuance of the natural development of his genius; to the very end
of his career he continued to profit by the lessons of greater
experience; his touch constantly grew more free, more feathery, his
pigment more transparent, his insight into character more rapid and
more sure. The increased elegance and heightened refinement of his
later portraits may or may not be due to a closer touch with the court
and its immediate surroundings; but, from what has gone before, it is
clear that it is a delusion to speak deprecatingly of a "Gainsborough
of the Bath period."

It is by no means easy to assign dates to most of the pictures painted
by Gainsborough in London. The Academy catalogues provide but slight
assistance; for one thing portraits were almost invariably unnamed in
those days and can only be identified in most cases by the help of
contemporary criticism or correspondence; besides, as we have seen,
Gainsborough's first reappearance at the official exhibition took place
in 1777 with the portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland, and
his final quarrel with the institution was only a few years later. But
the beautiful women and men of fashion who sat to him were legion.
Portraits such as that of "Mrs. Robinson" in the Wallace Collection,
"Mrs. Siddons" in the National Gallery, "The Hon. Mrs. Graham" in the
Scottish National Gallery are too well known and too easily accessible
to need description. Many, however, of his greatest works are hidden
away from the general public in private collections, and only reveal
themselves now and again when their owners consent to lend them to an

Among these is Lord Rothschild's "The Morning Walk," which may perhaps
be looked upon as Gainsborough's most perfect masterpiece. It is a
portrait group of Squire Hallett and his wife walking in a landscape
with a white Pomeranian dog. As in many of the master's finest
achievements the colour-scheme is of the soberest description; like the
"Lady Mulgrave" or Lord Normanton's marvellous "Lady Mendip" it is
almost a monochrome. Yet, by a sort of magic, such pictures as these
give the impression of a superb melody of colour; every touch conduces
to a most perfect harmony, and the effect is obtained by a method so
personal, so entirely new to his time, that Reynolds, speaking of him
in one of his discourses, was able to say that "his handling, the
manner of leaving the colours, ... had very much the appearance of the
work of an artist who had never learned from others the usual and
regular practice belonging to his art."

And indeed a survey of Gainsborough's life-work leads one to agree with
the words of Sir Joshua, but in a wider sense than the President
intended them to apply. Gainsborough owed little or nothing to the
great masters of painting who came before him, and less to any of his
contemporaries. His teachers were Nature and his own sympathy with his
subject. Nowhere in the work of his maturity is there to be found any
trace of imitation of the Dutch or of the Italian masters. He did not
pose his models _à la_ Van Dyck, nor did he borrow his palette from
Titian; he is the most English of English artists as he is the greatest
glory of English art. "He is an immortal painter," says Ruskin, "and
his excellence is based on principles of art long acknowledged and
facts of Nature universally apparent."

[Footnote 1: Pages 121, 124.]

The plates are printed by BEMROSE & SONS, LTD., Derby and London

The text at the BALLANTYNE PRESS, Edinburgh

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes

Paragraphs were rejoined on either side of the plates; therefore, some
sentences will be found on a different page number than the original

The description of the painting, originally preceding the illustration
by a page, is displayed above the painting, while the caption added
below the painting contains only the plate number and title for
reference purposes.

Double, single, and mismatched quotation marks were preserved from
the original book.

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