Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Self Portrait as a Boy c.1739 1739c.

Thomas Gainsborough RA (172788)

Self Portrait as a Boy c.1739, Thomas Gainsborough RA
Oil on paper on canvas
18th Century
9 x 8 inches 22.8 x 20.3 cm
Private Collection UK
Michael Rosenthal The Art of Thomas Gainsborough Yale 1999 p.5 (ill.) John Gage Colour and Culture 1993 London p.180 n.33 Adrienne Corri Gainsborough''s Early Career The Burlington Magazine, April 1983 frontispiece Rica Jones Notes on the Technical Examination 1990 London (unpublished) James Mulraine The Stuart Portrait Status and Legacy Southampton City Art Gallery Marvin Myrone in Michael Rosenthal and Marvin Myrone (ed.) Gainsborough Tate Gallery London 2002 p.44 p.45 (ill.)
The Stuart Portrait: Status and Legacy Southampton City Art Gallery Autumn 2001 Gainsborough Tate Britain October 24th 2002 - January 19th 2003. Cat. no.1
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The arresting fascination of this painting of the thirteen-year-old Gainsborough, which descends from the family who was intermediary between the artist and the Duke of Bedford, scarcely needs to be expressed. Self-portraits by any painter of this age are a considerable rarity; such an early glimpse of one of British painting's most prolific and accomplished artists is a precious object.

It also casts a light on Gainsborough's early career as a painter. It has recently been established that Gainsborough was receiving payments -made via his father- from the Fonnereau family of Suffolk as early as 1736. Although the precise commission to which these payments relate is not established, the Fonnereaus were also patrons of Hayman with whom Gainsborough was associated when he moved to London in 1739.

It is recognised that Gainsborough was practising painting at an impressively young age. The painter himself refers to this in a letter to Henry Bate concerning Cornards Wood (National Gallery) when he explains that the landscape -''a little in the schoolboy stile''- was ''begun before I left school.''

In style and likeness the self-portrait conforms entirely to Gainsborough. There is a strong facial resemblance to the artist as shown in Self Portrait with the artist's wife and daughter, c.1748 which is the second earliest recorded self-portrait. In execution it foreshadows the later self -portraits by the concentration of light that distinguishes the head and by the sitter''s directness and intensity of gaze. The doll-like figure is paralleled by many that appear in Gainsborough's earliest portraits. It also displays a precociously early use of Gainsborough''s hallmark glazing in the modelling to the coat- a distinction which sets him apart from most contemporary portraitists.
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