John Gravenor (1700—1778) of Ipswich was an apothecary and a steady supporter of Kirby’s work. He subscribed to both the Historical Account and the first edition of the Method of Perspective, as well as the second edition of John Kirby’s Suffolk Traveler. He also, unsurprisingly, subscribed to Richard Canning’s Account of the Gifts and Legacies that have been given and bequeathed to Charitable Uses in the Town of Ipswich.
Gravenor stood for bailiff of Ipswich in the bitter election of 1754. Although the election was decisive, with Gravenor and Thomas Richardson gaining 363 and 362 votes respectively to 237 and 236 for the opposing ticket of Humphry Rant and William Hammond, the outgoing bailiffs Michael Thirkle and John Sparowe refused to concede. Susan Mitchell Sommers, in her Parliamentary Politics of a County and Its Town: General Elections in Suffolk and Ipswich in the Eighteenth Century explains that they would not hand over their offices and town records until a royal order forced them to comply. Sommers also notes that such was the depth of party loyalty that only one voter split the ticket (the delightfiully-named William Scarlet). Among other offices, Gravenor was re-elected bailiff in 1757, 1760, 1762, and 1764. Rant, Hammond, Thirkle and Sparowe were all among Kirby’s subscribers, presumably indicating that Suffolk antiquities transcended party politics.
At a similar time, around 1752 to 1754, Gainsborough painted the Gravenor family of John, his second wife Ann Colman (whom he had married in 1739), and their daughters Ann and Elizabeth.
Although this conversation piece comes after the famous Andrews portrait, Gainsborough had some difficulty with the figures. Malcolm Cormack, in The Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, refers to “the faint air that the sitters are pushing their heads though a seaside photographer’s canvas, while they fall gently sideways”. However, Cormack also points out that “Gainsborough has achieved a dazzle of shot silk and surface flicker by the most complicated means”, and Rosenthal draws attention to the motif of the crossed trees representing marriage. I like the way he sets off each face with a dark background: the dark foliage behind John Gravenor; the tree trunk behind his wife; the darkest cloud behind Ann, and the shadowed dress behind Elizabeth.