Despite this famous protestation in a letter to his friend William Jackson, Gainsborough was clearly prepared to make an exception when it came to making portraits of his own family and himself. This book, and the major exhibition it accompanies, features a dozen portraits of his daughters Mary and Margaret, the same number of himself and his wife Margaret (though, perhaps tellingly, only one of the couple together), as well as works depicting four of his five siblings, his handsome nephew Gainsborough Dupont (who became his studio assistant) , an aunt and uncle, several in – laws and – last, but not least – his beloved dogs, Tristram and Fox.
Spanning more than four decades, Gainsborough’s family portraits chart the period from the mid – 1740s, when he plied his trade in his native Suffolk , through his time in Bath ( 1758 – 74 ), when he established hi mself with a rich and fashionable clientele , to his most successful latter years at his luxuriously appointed studio in London’s We st End. Alongside this story of a provincial 18th – century artist’s rise to fame and fortune runs a more private narrative, ab out the role of portraiture in the promotion of family values, at a time when these were assuming a recogni s ably modern form.
In the first of three introductory essays, David H. Solkin writes on Gainsborough himself, placing his family portraits in the context of earlier practice – including that of the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens and British portraitists from Mary Beale to Joseph Highmore . Ann Bermingham explores Gainsborough’s portraits of his daughters, with particular reference to two finished double portraits painted seven years apart and the tragic story arising from them. Susan Sloman discusses Margaret’s role as her husband’s business manager, its effect on the family dynamic and hence the visual representation of its members.