Tag Archives: Sudbury

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.


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.

Fulcher on Tom Pear Tree

Gainsborough’s first full-length biography was by George Williams Fulcher, also from Sudbury, posthumously edited and completed by his son and published in 1856 (Fulcher having died the previous year). Fulcher’s account is highly readable and informative, although peppered with minor inaccuracies, and colorful and conjectural in equal parts. Fulcher naturally discusses the painting of Tom Pear Tree, although from a somewhat different perspective from that of Thicknesse. Fulcher prefigures the story earlier on, saying:

The house in which Gainsborough was born had a spacious and well-planted orchard annexed to it, and several of the trees are still standing that were there in the Painter’s boyhood. Amongst them is the Pear-tree, the robbery of which, as will be hereafter related, furnished his first attempt at portrait painting.

A chapter or two later, in his colouful Victorian way, Fulcher gives the story:

At the back of the house in which Gainsborough was born, there was, as we have observed, a spacious orchard. It was separated only by a slight fence from the public road, and the clusters of ripe fruit had long proved too strong a temptation for some of the passers-by. But no clue could be obtained likely to lead to the detection of the culprits, until one morning, young Gainsborough having risen very early, proceeded to a rustic summer house at the further end of the orchard, and there commenced a sketch of one of the picturesque trees in the enclosure. Whilst thus employed, he observed a man’s face peeping over the fence and looking most wistfully at the mellow pears. The youthful portrait-painter immediately made a sketch of his features, in which roguery and indolence, hope and fear, were happily blended; I dare not, evidently waited on, I would. After gazing about him, he proceeded to scale the fence and climb the tree, when Gainsborough emerged from his hiding place, and the man decamped. At breakfast, tom related the story, and laid upon the table a faithful likeness of the marauder, who was immediately known to be a man living in Sudbury. On being sent for and taxed with the felonious intent, he stoutly denied it, till the boy produced the portrait, and shewed him how he looked when about to break the eighth commandment. This juvenile effort was preserved for many years, and Gainsborough ultimately made a finished painting of it, under the title of “Tom Peartree’s Portrait.”

Interestingly, Fulcher’s account of how Gainsborough’s facility for accurate portraiture captured a thief comes immediately after his version of young Tom’s apprehension for forging his father’s signature.

When Fulcher deals with Thicknesse’s relationship with Gainsborough, he quotes in full Thicknesses’ account of being fooled by the Tom Pear Tree portrait, adding a footnote that, “Notwithstanding the lapse of a century, this figure is still preserved. It was discovered, some years ago, in an old summer-house on the premises which Gainsborough had occupied.”

Bonus Feature

Fulcher (the younger) on Thicknesse, “Within a month of his decease, his early patron, Thicknesse, published a brief memoir, “written,” he says, “in one day,”—of which we need not here say more, than that it deservedly enjoyed a fame of equal duration.” Another wry footnote comments on Thicknesse’s memoir, “The style of this curious publication is so defiant of all the rules of composition that alterations for grammar’s sake have been occasionally made in the quotations.” Possibly my favorite comment is, “Thicknesse, always guiltless of chronology”.

See also

Thicknesse on Pear Tree.


Fulcher, G.W. (1856). Life of Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans.

Thicknesse, Philip (1788). A sketch of the life and paintings of Thomas Gainsborough.

A Clique of Politicians

Joshua Kirby was a surprisingly well-connected guy, albeit within a fairly limited geographical reach. One example is the Suffolk Members of Parliament. Kirby’s Twelve Prints and accompanying Historical Account were published in 1748. There was an election in 1747, and it is instructive to look at the members returned.

At the time, Suffolk returned two members who represented the county, and there were seven boroughs within the county, each of which also returned two members. Kirby seems not to have had any contacts in Bury St. Edmunds, Dunwich, or Eye, which were further away from Ipswich. However, of the ten politicians representing Suffolk, Aldeburgh, Ipswich, Orford, and Sudbury, fully eight were subscribers. The representatives were:

The two who did not subscribe were both newcomers to the political scene. Zachary Philip Fonnereau was Thomas Fonnereau’s younger brother; and Richard Rigby was the person sent in from London on the Prince of Wales’ interest.

While some people subscribed as a matter of public duty, and the antiquarian nature of Kirby’s book may have been attractive, others on this list seem to have rarely subscribed. Kirby had corralled quite a collection of subscribers.

In graph theory a clique is a complete subgraph. The term comes from social network theory, and in Kirby’s context means a collection of subscribers all of whom knew each other. Given the intimate nature of Suffolk politics, and the fact that some of these men were politically active for decades, we can assume that they were all acquainted. Kirby’s subscriber graph has an 8-vertex MP clique.

And here is a draft showing the clique with names.

William Windham

A William Windham, Esq. subscribed to Kirby’s Twelve Prints and Historical Account. The Windhams were an old, prominent, and complex Norfolk family, far too many of whom were called William. However, Kirby’s Windham is probably the William Windham of Earsham in Norfolk, just across the county border from Bungay who was MP for Aldeburgh at the time. His father, Colonel William Windham, had served under Marlborough and lost a leg at Blenheim. He bought Earsham Hall in 1720 and was himself MP for Sudbury from 1722 to 1727 and then Aldeburgh from 1727 until his death in 1730.

Earsham Hall

The younger William (c.1706—1789), was appointed sub-governor to the Duke of Cumberland (son of George II, and also called William) in 1731. Windham was to serve the Duke until he died in 1765. While in service as governor, he naturally met the governess of the younger princesses. She was Mary, Dowager Countess Deloraine. Born Mary Howard, daughter of Captain Charles Howard, she had first been a maid of honour to Queen Caroline (then the Princess of Wales), but had lost her position when she married Henry Scott, Earl of Deloraine in 1726. He was lord of the bedchamber to George II (then the Prince of Wales), continuing on after the accession. He died in 1730, leaving a pretty widow and two young daughters. Mary now came back into royal service as governess of the princesses and appears in that role in Hogarth’s conversation piece “The Indian Emperor, or The Conquest of Mexico”. The performance being commemorated had taken place in 1732, although Hogarth did not finish the painting until 1735.

Mary bending down pointing out a dropped fan

Mary and William Windham married in April 1734, and this time she got to retain her position having at length talked Queen Caroline into keeping her on as a married woman. She soon added another post, that of mistress to the king. John Hervey, who Lucy Worsley in The Courtiers terms, “The most malicious, amusing and memorable spokesperson for the Georgian court”, and who really did not like Mary, said that the king had made “the governess of his two youngest daughters his whore… and the guardian director of his son’s youth and morals his cuckold”. Mary and William had one son, who died in 1743, and she followed in 1744, having lost the king’s favor a couple of years previously.

Thomas Fonnereau

Thomas Fonnereau (1699-1779), MP for Sudbury, subscribed to Joshua Kirby’s Twelve Prints and Historical Account of 1748, as well as Canning’s Gifts and Legacies of Ipswich of 1747. The Fonnereaus were a wealthy Huguenot merchant family based in London. When the father, Claude Fonnereau, died in 1740, he left nine children and vast wealth. Thomas, the eldest son, inherited £40,000, enough to keep in politics for life, as well as Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich, which his father had bought in 1734 from Price Devereux, 10th Viscount Hereford, who had sold the house after his wife died.

The Fonnereau family had extensive dealings with the Gainsboroughs of London, the painter’s uncle Thomas, and his son Thomas, and there are persistent claims that Thomas Fonnereau was an early patron of Gainsborough. Adrienne Corri certainly thought so, although later scholars have cast doubt on her arguments. However, early on, sometime in the late 1740s, Gainsborough did paint a view of Ipswich from the grounds of Christchurch.

Thomas Fonnereau was MP for Sudbury from 1741 to 1768, voting reliably on the government side. In December 1745, The Rev. Gibbon Jones preached a sermon “Fear God and and honour the King”, and the printed version was dedicated to Thomas Fonnereau. Sudbury was renowned as a particularly corrupt seat, and therefore very expensive to contest. The History of Parliament Online notes, “the borough had a well-deserved reputation for venality”, and Susan Sommers said of Sudbury, “it offers the historian an unself-conscious example of eighteenth-century political corruption at its most exuberant”.

The story that brings together Gainsborough, Fonnereau and elections is told (at second hand) in Whitley’s 1915 biography of Gainsborough.

According to a story told by William Windham (Pitt’s Secretary for War), his earliest supporter was Mr. Fonnereau, a member of the family which long owned the beautiful old house in Christchurch Park, Ipswich, where the effigy of Tom Peartree is now to be seen. Windham, who did not like Gainsborough, and described him as dissolute and capricious and not very delicate in his sentiments of honour, says that Mr. Fonnereau gave him his first chance by lending him £300, and that the painter was afterwards so forgetful of this benefit as to vote against his patron’s interest in a parliamentary election. “His conscience, however, remonstrating against such conduct, he kept himself in a state of intoxication for the time he set out to vote till his return to town, that he might not relent of his ingratitude.” The only thing that gives the slightest colour to this remarkable story is that one of the Fonnereaus was for a time the parliamentary representative of Sudbury.

Gainsborough was twenty for the election of 1747, and supposedly still living in London, and by the election of 1754, he had moved to Ipswich. If there was any truth to the story, though, he would have been voting for Richard Rigby, put up by the Prince of Wales, who sent him down to Sudbury in 1747 with a bodyguard of prize fighters.