Portrait of an Officer of the 1 st Dragoon Guards
|Title:||Portrait of an Officer of the 1 st Dragoon Guards|
|Artist:||Thomas Gainsborough, R.A.(1727-1788) British|
|Detail:||Oil on canvas, feigned oval: 25¼ x 22 in. Frame: 32 ¾ x 29 ¼ in.
Inscribed and dated TG 1756 (lower right)
The portrait and landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough was born at Sudbury, Suffolk, the fifth son of a cloth merchant. He was apprenticed at the age of thirteen to a London silversmith, and was taught by Hubert Gravelot, a French book-illustrator.
By 1745 he had established his own studio in London. He married Margaret Burr in 1746, and by 1748 had taken up residence in Suffolk. He moved to Ipswich in 1752, and settled at Bath as a portraitist in 1759. He took as an apprentice his nephew, Gainsborough Dupont (1754-97) in 1772.
In 1774, established as a fashionable portrait painter, he moved to London, living at Schomberg House, Pall Mall. Despite his great success as a portraitist, he always maintained that he preferred painting landscapes.
Gainsborough exhibited at the Society of Artists from 1761 to 1769, and became a foundation member of the Royal Academy in 1768. He first exhibited there the following year, but in 1773 quarrelled with the Academy over the hanging of his pictures, and did not exhibit there again until 1777. In 1784 he again quarrelled with them and never again exhibited at the Academy, instead organising a series of annual
exhibitions in his studio at Schomberg House.
He received commissions from the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland in 1777, and from the King and Queen in 1781. Gainsborough died in London after a reconciliation with his great rival Sir Joshua Reynolds, who eulogised him at the Royal Academy. He is buried in Kew Churchyard. A posthumous sale of his pictures and drawings was held at Schomberg House in 1789.
Ellis Waterhouse, Gainsborough, London 1958, 1966
Mary Woodall (ed.), The Letters of Thomas Gainsborough, revised edition, 1963
John Hayes, Thomas Gainsborough, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1980
John Hayes, The Landscape Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, 2 volumes, London
The present portrait
This delightfully direct and faithful representation of an officer of the 1 st Dragoon Guards is an extremely rare example of a signed and dated portrait from Gainsborough’s Ipswich period. The sitter has been traditionally identified as Philip Thicknesse, a friend and key patron of the artist at the time. Waterhouse and Hugh Belsey do not accept this identification however, on the basis of a miniature of Thickness by Nathaniel Hone in the NPG.
The 1 st Dragoon Guards were stationed at Landguard Fort, and at least one other officer from the Regiment, the Hon. Charles Hamilton, sat to Gainsborough for a comparable bust-length portrait in a feigned oval (ex Richard L. Feigen, New York; Belsey, op.cit., page 64, illus., fig. 43). Hamilton wears precisely the same uniform as that seen in the present work.
The monogram and date on the present work, unusual in the artist’s oeuvre and particularly so in his Ipswich period, can perhaps be interpreted as him wishing to put a personal stamp on his relationship with the sitter, beyond that of an ordinary commission.
This early provenance of this portrait has been confused with that of another portrait, formerly Portrait of Philip Thicknesse by Thomas Gainsborough (and accepted by Waterhouse as such) but now re-titled Portrait of a Gentleman, with the figure, reclining full-length, painted by Francis Hayman and the landscape background by Gainsborough (oil on canvas, 25 x 30⅛ in., St. Louis Art Museum).
A third portrait of man in blue (oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in.) referred to by Walter Armstrong (in Gainsborough and his Place in English Art, London, Heinemann, 1898), and formerly in the collection of Sir Cuthbert Quilter, has been associated with Philip Thicknesse, but is discounted as such by Waterhouse.
As an officer of the 1 st Dragoon Guards the sitter must have used the same opportunity as Col. Charles Hamilton to sit to Gainsborough when his Troop were stationed in Ipswich between April 1755 and September 1756.
The army list for 1756 includes the following Captains in the regiment, John Richardson, Sandy Mill, Henry Devic and William Page, our sitter is presumably one of them.
Howes sale, Christie’s, London, 24 th March 1865, lot 120 (bought by Closs);
Anon. sale, Christie’s, London, 30 th January 1897, lot 102 (bought by Gooden);
With Stephen T. Gooden, 57, Pall Mall, London, after January 1897;
Mrs. A. Cooper;
Anon. sale, Christie’s 13 th March 1936, lot 52 (bought by Mrs. Sykes);
With Newhouse Galleries, New York, from whom bought by Mary Roberts Rinehart
on 22 nd December 1936 for $4,590;
By descent to her great granddaughter, by whom sold, Christie’s, New York,
Important Old Master Paintings, Part II, 6 th April 2006, lot 285, illustrated
Private Collection, United Kingdom.
Algernon Graves F.S.A. Art Sales (London, 1918-21, 3 Volumes) Volume 1,page 325;
E. K. Waterhouse ‘Preliminary Check List of Portraits by Thomas Gainsborough’ in
The Walpole Society, Volume XXXIII (Oxford, 1953), pages 104, 105 and 118;
E. K Waterhouse Gainsborough (London, Edward Hulton Limited, 1958) page 100,
no. 765, plate 26;
Hugh Belsey Thomas Gainsborough: A Country Life (Munich, Prestel-Verlag, 2002)
page 64, as a ‘lost’ work.