"I am sick of Portraits and wish very much to take up my Viol da Gamba and walk off to some sweet village when I can paint Landskips and enjoy the fag end of life in quietness and ease." Despite this famous protestation in a letter to his friend William Jackson, Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88) was clearly prepared to make an exception when it came to making portraits of his own family and himself. This book features over 50 portraits of himself, his wife, his daughters, other close relatives and 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, to his most successful latter years at his luxuriously appointed studio in London's West End. Alongside this story of a provincial 18th-century artist's rise to fame and fortune runs a more private narrative, about the role of portraiture in the promotion of family values, at a time when these were assuming a recognizably 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. 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.