Category Archives: Gainsborough

Dinner at the Hospital

The Foundling Hospital played an important role in the developing community of artists in London in the 1740s and 1750s. Hogarth was the principal force behind this.  Back in 1740, Hogarth had donated his portrait of Captain Coram to the hospital, and in 1746 Hogarth, together with Rysbrack, suggested a plan to the Governors of the Hospital whereby artists, principally painters and sculptors, would donate work to decorate the (public) areas of the hospital, and, in return, would have their work seen by those sections of polite society who might commission more work from the artists.  The plan was approved and became a great success.  A committee was formed to meet annually on November 5 to oversee the donations.  Hogarth, Francis Hayman, Joseph Highmore, James Wills, Thomas Gainsborough, Samuel Wale, Richard Wilson, and more all donated works.

Hogarth_Captain Coram

As was frequently the case in eighteenth-century England, the annual business meeting of the committee soon acquired a dinner, which grew into a large gathering of artists and their supporters.  Few records of these dinners survive, with the exception of the one held on November 5, 1757.  At this dinner, an astonishing 154 people signed the guest list.  The original list is long lost, but it was transcribed and later published in [Brownlow 1847, 17—20]. Brownlow sorted the names alphabetically within profession (Painters, Sculptors, Architects, Engravers) and non-artist supporters (who did not get a heading).  He also included some helpful footnotes identifying some of the names. The list thus stands as one of the few lengthy sources of the names of active artists in the late 1750s.

Joshua Kirby was present at the dinner, and out of the artists there that evening, at least 40 had subscribed to his Method of Perspective, as well as some half a dozen of the supporters.

 

References

Brownlow, J. (1847) Memoranda; or, Chronicles of the Foundling Hospital, Including Memoirs of Captain Coram, etc. London.

St. Anne’s, Kew

The church of St. Anne on Kew Green was dedicated in 1714, having been built on land donated by Queen Anne, and is celebrating its tercentenary in 2014. Over the course of the three centuries, the church has been enlarged, renovated and altered numerous times. The church website has a useful sequential plan.

The church began as a modest chapel in what is roughly the central portion of the modern façade.

It was then enlarged in 1770 with the addition of two aisles, the northern one being used as part of the church, and the southern aisle as a charity school. This enlargement was designed by Joshua Kirby, and paid for by George III. The southern aisle was later incorporated into the church.

Kirby died in 1774 and was buried near the new southern wall of the church he had re-designed only a few years before, and this portion of the foot print of the building has not altered since then.

Near Kirby’s grave is that of his long-time friend, Thomas Gainsborough:

St. Anne’s also holds the graves of Jeremiah Meyer, miniature painter to the King, and Johan Zoffany.

More Kirby Live!

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).

Eighteenth Century Aphorisms

I like this quote from Gainsborough’s friend William Jackson of Exeter. Jackson (1730-1803) was the organist at Exeter Cathedral and late in life published a book called The Four Ages, which also included essays on various subjects, including one on wit. He felt that previous attempts at defining wit were unsuccessful, and gave his own:

A wit is a juggler in ideas—a punster is a juggler in words. (1798, 122)

John Kirby

Joshua Kirby was one of a dozen children of John Kirby (c. 1690 – 1753) and Alice (Brown) Kirby (ca. 1685—1766). Not much is known about Kirby’s father’s background. He is supposed to have been a schoolmaster at some point, and when Kirby was growing up was a miller in Wickham Market, Suffolk. More importantly for Joshua Kirby’s future development was his father’s sideline as a topographer, drawing up plans of estates for the local gentry. This business took him around the county and developed his contacts with the wealthier members of society.

John Kirby by Gainsborough

In the 1730s, John Kirby made a survey of the whole of Suffolk, which resulted in a large-scale map of the county (at a scale of 1″ to a mile), and accompanying book, the Suffolk Traveller, describing all the towns and important places of the county together with the distances by road between each place.

The map, engraved on four large plates, cost 10 shillings, and the book came free with the map. To help cover the costs of the survey and production of the book and map, which took several years, Kirby raised money by subscription, building a large network of agents who could take in subscriptions for him. A subscriber put half the money down, and paid the balance on receipt of the map and book. Another device Kirby used to gain interest and subscriptions was to engrave the coats of arms of local nobility and gentry on the map – eventually he had over 120 arms depicted.

The contacts John Kirby made in Suffolk, and the technique of raising money though subscription, were subsequently used by Joshua Kirby in furthering his own career.

A Brief Biography

Joshua Kirby was born in 1716 at Parham in Suffolk, the second or third son of John Kirby and Alice Brown. The Kirby family lived at Wickham Market where his father kept a mill. John Kirby is now remembered for his Suffolk Traveller, a book detailing the roads and places of Suffolk, with accompanying large map. The book was published in 1736, and a few years later Kirby’s drawings of Scole Inn appeared. By now in his early twenties, Joshua had moved to Ipswich and obtained work at house-painting. In 1739, he married Sarah Bull. They had four children, of whom two died in infancy. Surviving were a son William, and a daughter Sarah.

Joshua’s brothers, John, Stephen and William all received legal training. John was Under Treasurer at Middle Temple, Stephen died in 1741 while working with his brother, and William married into the local landowning family of Meadowes and spent his career administering his wife’s estates. I know very little about his sisters, none of whom seem to have married.

Kirby’s next project was a series of engravings of local castles, abbeys, and monuments, each dedicated to a local patron, and the set of Twelve Prints accompanied by a brief Historical Account of the locations was published in 1748.

It was around this time that his great friendship with Thomas Gainsborough began, and many of Kirby’s Suffolk subscribers to his Twelve Prints sat to Gainsborough for portraits in the 1750s. It is not clear to me whether Kirby met William Hogarth through Gainsborough or through engravers, but Hogarth became a great promoter of Kirby. After the Twelve Prints, Kirby set to work on writing a volume on perspective painting. The project took several years, with much encouragement from Hogarth, eventually being published as Dr. Brook Taylor’s Method of Perspective Made Easy in 1754. This was Kirby’s big break. He gave a series of lectures on perspective to the St. Martin’s Lane Academy that were so well received he was immediately elected a member (many of the members of the Academy had subscribed to the book, with Hogarth taking 6 copies). He moved to London, gave another series of lectures on perspective from his house and rushed out a second edition of the book. Among the many new subscribers to the second edition were Thomas Sandby, Draughtsman to his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland, and John Shackleton, Principal Painter to his Majesty. Also subscribing was the Earl of Bute, who had charge of the education of the Prince of Wales, and soon appointed Kirby as tutor on perspective to the prince.

After five years as a tutor, and with the accession of his pupil as George III, Kirby, along with his son, was appointed Clerk of the Works at Kew and Richmond, a post he retained for the rest of his life. Kirby was elected to the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries in 1767 and in 1768, during a period of furious factionalism was elected President of the Incorporated Society of Artists. Despite strong networking, Kirby was not really a political operator and he was unable to prevent the formation of the rival Royal Academy and fading of the Incorporated Society. He resigned in 1770, and in 1771 his son William died. Kirby’s health deteriorated and he died in 1774.

Kirby has not been well-served by biographers, and the most extensive description of his life is the article, “Joshua Kirby (1716—1774): a Biographical sketch” by Felicity Owen in the Gainsborough’s House Review of 1995.

Cunningham on Tom Peartree

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.

See Also:

Fulcher on Tom Pear Tree

Thicknesse on Pear Tree.

References:

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.