British Portraits in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Katharine Baetjer

By Katharine Baetjer

Британская портретная живопись из собрания The Metropolitan Museum of artwork

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4 35 36 g THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH (1727-1788) Mrs. -I823) Oil on canvas, 92 /4 x 60 V2in. 7 cm) Bequest of William K. -I776) ions for the pleasure gardens at Vauxhall. English artists may be divided between those who came from or visited continental Europe and those who did not: while Gainsborough was one of the latter, from an early age he studied the French Rococo style and also the work of Jacob van Ruisdael and his seventeenth-century Dutch contemporaries. Had landscape painting been more profitable, Gainsborough would perhaps have made a career working only in that genre.

R. Burney was the nephew, student, and son-in-law of the celebrated musicologist Dr. Charles Burney, whose eldest daughter he married in I770. The diarist Fanny Burney, Madame d'Arblay, was his sister-in-law. Both C. R. Burney and his wife, Ester, who was two years his junior, were noted harpsichordists. Writing from his house in St. Martin's Street, Leicester Square, in 1775, Dr. " It is probable that artist and sitter were acquainted; given Gainsborough's interest in music, they would in any event have had much in common.

The three children of the marriage remained with their father, a divorce was never granted, and the countess became a chronic invalid, dying of tuberculosis in 1797. The Museum's picture, one of two autograph variants, must date to late 1775 or 1776. It was probably commissioned by or given to Lady Derby's mother, the duchess of Hamilton and Argyll, in whose husband's family it descended. Group portraiture is a demanding subgenre. It is difficult to deploy a number of frontal or three-quarter faces and figures while keeping each face in view, and at the same time assigning each player an appropriate role in a carefully calculated scenario such 4 43 as this one.

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