Tag Archives: conversation piece

William Wollaston

William Wollaston (1693—1757) subscribed to Kirby’s Historical Account. At one time a fabulously wealthy family, the Wollastons made their money in the wool trade and bought Finborough Hall in Suffolk for £10000 in the 1650s, although this was not their primary residence. Wollaston’s father, also William (1660—1724), however was a schoolteacher and philosopher, who tried to suppress his own writings. His most popular work, Religion of Nature Delineated, was only published shortly before his death, but quickly sold ten thousand copies and went through many editions. By living a quiet life, he drew the attention of his cousin William Wollaston, who had inherited the bulk of the estates, had no surviving sons, and was much irritated by importunate relatives. He left pretty much everything to the retired schoolteacher when he died in 1688. Leslie Stephen has a lovely article on the father William Wollaston in the old DNB.

Our William Wollaston lived at Finborough Hall and became MP for Ipswich in 1733 running unopposed in a by-election to replace the deceased former MP. Returned in the 1734 election, he served until 1741, being then replaced by Edward Vernon. In 1730, William Hogarth painted a conversation piece of the Wollaston family.

William Wollaston married Elizabeth Fauquier, whose father was governor of the Bank of England, and together they had eight children. In 1739, he had four of his children inoculated against smallpox, with the Ipswich Journal reporting that they were ‘in a fair way of Recovery’.  His eldest surviving son, William (1731-1797) was himself MP for Ipswich from 1768 to 1784. An amateur musician, he also gave Thomas Gainsborough two important commissions shortly before Gainsborough moved to Bath. One is this portrait:

The other is Gainsborough’s first (surviving) full-length.

Rosenthal (1999) suggests that the two portraits were intended to hang in Gainsborough’s new picture room in Bath to show how successfully he could catch a likeness, the two paintings being recognizably of the same person.

For more on Suffolk MPs, see A Clique of Politicians.

Oddly enough, a Wollaston is currently a member of parliament.

John Gravenor

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.