I am giving a talk at the upcoming conference of the Northeast American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies annual conference at Yale University on October 4. A substantial number of Thomas Gainsborough’s early portrait sitters in Suffolk were people known to Kirby from his earlier work. I explain who they were and how he knew them. Here’s the abstract:
Gainsborough’s Suffolk Sitters: The Kirby Connection
Joshua Kirby (1716-1774), a painter known for his book on perspective, was a long-standing, intimate friend of Thomas Gainsborough. When the young Gainsborough returned to Suffolk from London in need of portrait commissions, Kirby had already developed an extensive network of connections, centered at Ipswich, as evidenced by the subscriber list to his 1748 publication of the Twelve Prints and accompanying Historical Account. Kirby’s strengths were in local gentry, Ipswich and East Suffolk politicians, lawyers, and especially the clergy. These overlapping groups provided the bulk of Gainsborough’s portrait commissions during his decade in Suffolk, before his removal to Bath and then London enabled higher prices and richer patrons. Both John Hayes and John Bensusan-Butt have called for investigation of the social circles of those Gainsborough painted in the 1750s. Social network theory provides tools for analyzing such social relationships.
Social network analysis emphasizes the importance of nodes of high degree (individuals with many connections, in this context), especially those acting as bridges. I argue that Kirby performs this role for Gainsborough, providing connections to several key Suffolk cliques (subgroups with many internal ties).