Fulcher gave a richly-detailed anecdote of young Thomas Gainsborough sketching a pear-thief, but where did Fulcher get the story from? While it appears that Fulcher embroidered the story with details of his own invention, it seems that his main source was Allan Cunningham. Cunningham (1784—1842) was a Scottish poet who moved to London in 1810 and in 1829-30 produced The Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters,Sculptors, and Architects, the first volume of which included a chapter on Gainsborough. Cunningham’s version contains most of the elements of Fulcher’s. but is somewhat shorter and omits the embellishment of the summer-house.
On one occasion he was concealed among some bushes in his father’s garden, making a sketch of an old fantastic tree, when he observed a man looking most wistfully over the wall at some pears, which were hanging ripe and tempting. The slanting light of the sun happened to throw the eager face into a highly picturesque mixture of light and shade, and Tom immediately sketched his likeness, much to the poor man’s consternation afterward, and much to the amusement of his father, when he taxed the peasant with the intention of plundering his garden, and showed him how he looked. Gainsborough long afterward made a finished painting of this Sudbury rustic—a work much admired among artists—under the name of Tom Peartree’s portrait.
Cunningham, A. (1829). The Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and architects. London: J. Murray
Fulcher, G.W. (1856). Life of Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans.