Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Captain William Blackwood 1760s

Thomas Gainsborough RA (172788)

Portrait of Captain William Blackwood, Thomas Gainsborough RA
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches; 76 x 62.5 cm
Collection of Mrs. Horton Watkins, St. Louis, Missouri; By gift to Washington University Gallery of Art, 1954
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In this portrait William Blackwood wears the uniform of the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot. Both stylistically, and by Blackwood's appearance -by then as a captain- in the Army List of 1770, it can be dated to the 1760s, and was painted during Gainsborough's lengthy stay in Bath, between 1758/9 and 1774.

Outside London itself, Bath attracted a greatest concentation of portrait painters then any other centre in England -during the eighteenth century one hundred and fifty artists were resident in the town- a magnet for them, as for the practitioners of many other trades, eager to profit from the opportunities of patronage that the spa town afforded during the winter season. Gainsborough throve especially at ''picking pockets in the portrait way'', in his own phrase, and the large number of portraits that survive from this period in his career is testament to his success.

The present portrait demonstrates the means by which Gainsborough maintained his lead over his rivals. Contemporary opinion held that Gainsborough was particularly successful in capturing a likeness; more than this, he suggests in that likeness a smooth confidence which is flattering without being facile. In a work such as this, the painter suggests those effects of light that he was beginning to acquire in his emulation of Van Dyck. His profit in Bath was not purely financial, and in the nearby collections of his patrons, such as that at Wilton, he was able to study first-hand the works of the master whose manner affected Gainsborough's so noticeably.
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