THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH R.A.
(1727 – 1788)
Portrait of Elizabeth, Duchess of Buccleuch
Mrs Flora Koch,
London, Christie’s, 19th May 1968, Lot 104 (repr.) bt. Baskett
G.D. Lockett, Clonterbrook House,
London, Sotheby’s, 16th August 1992, Lot 56 repr.,
Mrs T. S. Eliot
Parsons Galleries, London, Catalogue no. 44, no. 351
Francis Hawcroft, ‘English Drawings and Water Colours from the Lockett Collection’, The Old Water-Colour Society’s Club, XLV, 1970, pp. 36–38, pl XI; John Hayes, The Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough, London 1970, pp. 121–22, no. 43, pl. 124; Susan Sloman, Gainsborough in Bath, New Haven and London 2002, p. 98; Neil Jefferies, Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, London 2006, p. 190 repr.
Reputedly Gainsborough never sold a drawing and, if this is true, the group of pastel portraits the artist produced in the 1760s raise many questions about patronage and purpose. There are only nine portrait pastels, and the portrait of Elizabeth, Duchess of Buccleuch is amongst the finest of them.1
All the pastel portraits were made when Gainsborough was working in Bath and when he was his most productive and, in the majority of cases, all the subjects had sat to Gainsborough for oil portraits. In the case of the Earl and Countess of Dartmouth, the pastels may have been drawn to make amends for a disagreement recorded in a passionate, though good-hearted, exchange of letters.2 Others may have been produced to curry favour with the sitter and encourage them to employ Gainsborough for future portraits. For instance Gainsborough’s pastel of Gertrude, Duchess of Bedford, whose husband had commissioned both landscapes and portraits in the 1750s and 1760s, had ordered portraits of her nieces as well as her daughter, Caroline, who had married George, 4th Duke of Marlborough in 1762. The pastel of the Duchess of Bedford was given to her daughter and a group portrait of the Marlboroughs’ two daughters with their infant brother, now sadly lost, had also been delivered to Bedford House in London in 1767.3 Gainsborough was clearly keen to duplicate the affable relationship he had had with the Bedfords and hoped the gift of pastels portraits might help. Determined to influence the Marlboroughs Gainsborough also drew his most elaborate pastel of the Duchess of Marlborough, which has recently been sold for £1.5m, as a gift. Despite these considerable incentives the Duke of Marlborough continued to favour the work of Sir Joshua Reynolds, a relationship that culminated in the commission of the great family group portrait exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1778 that still hangs at Blenheim. The portrait of the Elizabeth, Duchess of Buccleuch was no doubt produced with exactly the same motives in mind.
Gainsborough had painted portraits of George, Duke of Montagu and his wife Mary, who was heir to the Montagu estates, in the summer of 1768 (both portraits are at Bowhill House, Selkirk) and as a bonne bouche he had made the pastel portrait head of the Duke (Fig. 1). Unfortunately the early history of the drawing is unknown, though it first appeared in an auction sale in Edinburgh that suggest that, similar to the gift from the Duchess of Bedford to her daughter, the Duke had given it to his daughter Elizabeth. She had married Henry Scott, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch in May 1767. On the death of her father in 1790 she added the extensive Montagu estates in England to the Buccleuch estates in Scotland. Elizabeth appears to have sat for her portrait at roughly the same time as her parents (Fig. 2). The portrait is now at Boughton, Northamptonshire and, perhaps encouraged by the two pastels of his father-in-law and his wife, three years later the Duke commissioned Gainsborough to paint a touchingly informal half-length portrait of himself cuddling a dandy dinmont terrier.
The pastel portrait of the Duchess is, except for the extraordinary pastel of the Duchess of Marlborough, is the only sheet in the group of a young woman and it shows a similar lively, youthful image and it balances black, white and blue chalks with the greatest economy and dexterity, using the grey
paper as the mid-tone and giving the sitter a vivacious informality that is quite different from the personality of the Montagu heiress shown in the oil portrait.
- Apart from the portrait under discussion there are portraits of the Duchess’ father, the Duke of Montagu (British Museum; John Hayes, The Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough, 2 vols, London 1970, p. 121, no. 41, pl. 116, hereafter Hayes 1970), the Duchess of Bedford (private collection; Hayes 1970, p. 122, no. 44), her daughter, Caroline, Duchess of Marlborough (private collection, New York; Hayes 1970, p. 121, no. 40, pl. 115), Lord Rivers (Victorian and Albert Museum; Hayes 1970, p. 121, no. 42), and the Earl and Countess of Dartmouth (private collection; Hayes 1970, p. 122, nos. 45 and 46). Four other drawings using coloured chalks are related to this group, though they appear to have been drawn for different reasons. They are as follows: a portrait of the artist’s nephew, Gainsborough Dupont (Victoria and Albert Museum; Hayes 1970, p. 123, no. 49, pl. 125); a portrait of Revd Richard Graves dating from 1786 (Morgan Library New York; Hayes 1970, pp. 124–25, no. 55) and since John Hayes wrote his catalogue a pastel of a young man in profile (perhaps a servant) dating from the 1760s and a portrait of the artist’s wife from the 1770s have reappeared (Hugh Belsey, ‘A Second Supplement to John Hayes’s ‘The Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough’, Master Drawings, XLVI (4), Winter 2008, p. 460, nos. 993 and 994, fig. 19 and 20).
- John Hayes, The Letters of Thomas Gainsborough, New Haven and London 2001, pp. 87–91, 189 nos. 52–54, 138.
- Details of the commission are given in a series of letters (Hugh Belsey, ‘New Documents by Thomas Gainsborough’, Burlington Magazine, CLVI, May 2014, p. 306, nos. 22A and 22B and note 27). The portrait of the three children is only known from the reference to its delivery in these letters.