Tag Archives: Thomas Gainsborough

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).

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.

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.

Thicknesse on Pear Tree

One of Thomas Gainsborough’s early paintings was of a man leaning on the top of a wall. Now known as Tom Pear Tree, the painting is at Ipswich.

There are several anecdotes about this painting, and maybe we’ll give more later, but for now here is Philip Thicknesse’s version. The irascible Thicknesse, who modestly claimed to be “the first man who perceived, though through clouds of bad colouring, what an accurate eye he possessed, and the truth of his drawings, and who dragged him from the obscurity of a Country Town”, wrote a biography of Gainsborough shortly after his death. In true Thicknessian fashion, about half the biography is devoted to a portrait of Thicknesse that Gainsborough never finished. Here is how Thicknesse relates his first encounter with Gainsborough’s work.

Soon after his [Gainsborough’s] remove to Ipswich I was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Land Guard Fort, not far distant, and while I was walking with the then printer and editor of the Ipswich journal, in a very pretty town garden of his, I perceived a melancholy faced countryman, with his arms locked together, leaning over the garden wall, I pointed him out to the printer, who was a very ingenious man, and he with great gravity of face, said the man had been there all day, that he pitied him, believing he was either mad, or miserable. I then stepped forward with an intention to speak to the mad man, and did not perceive, till I was close up, that it was a wooden man painted upon a shaped board. Mr. Creighton (I think that was the printer’s name) told me I had not been the only person this inimitable deception had imposed upon, for that many of his acquaintance had been led even to speak to it, before they perceived it to be a piece of art, and upon finding the artist himself lived in that town, I immediately procured his address, visited Mr. Gainsborough, and told him I came to chide him for having imposed a shadow instead of a substance upon me.

He came to chide, but stayed to praise, and later commissioned Gainsborough to paint a view of Land Guard Fort.

See also:

Fulcher on Tom Pear Tree.

See William Lynch.


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

Tobias Rustat

The Rev. Tobias Rustat (1716—1793) subscribed to the first edition of Kirby’s Method of Perspective. The Rustat family did not have long ties to Suffolk. The most illustrious ancestor, namesake Tobias Rustat (1608—1694), performed long, loyal, honorable, and lucrative service to the Stuart Kings. He was a servant, at times the only servant, to Charles II on the Continent during Cromwell’s rule, after the Restoration becoming Yeoman of the Robes, among other titles and perquisites.

Figure 1 Tobias Rustat (1608-1694)

He was somewhat unfairly characterized by the diarist John Evelyn as “a very simple, ignorant, but honest and loyal creature”, although Evelyn did not his “wonderful frugality”. Rustat seems to have been shrewd in gaining his fortune and generous in disposing of it. A life-long bachelor, he gave the first endowment to Cambridge University Library, and endowed a number of scholarships for orphans of clergy to attend Jesus College, Cambridge (where his father had gone). When he died at age 85, most of his fortune of some £20,000 was distributed among his various relatives, with a large portion going to a great-nephew, Tobias Rustat (1668—1744). This Tobias settled in Suffolk, at Withersfield, and had fourteen children, eight by his first wife, Mary Towers, and six by his second wife, Frances Tipping, daughter of Rev. Thomas Tipping, Rector of Weston Colville. Our Tobias was the eldest child of Frances Tipping and Tobias.

Young Tobias Rustat was educated at Saffron Walden and Bury St. Edmunds and in due course went up to Cambridge, to Jesus College. He got his BA in 1739, a year behind Laurence Sterne, his MA in 1742, and was a Fellow of the college 1743—1746. He was ordained deacon in 1739, and priest in 1741. He was Rector of Fordham in Cambridgeshire from 1745 to 1754, rather out of Kirby’s orbit. However, in 1748, he was presented with the living of Stutton, near Ipswich, by his uncle Thomas Tipping. He held this last position for the rest of his life, although he did occasionally add others. The Rectory of Stutton would have provided a comfortable living, but Tobias could draw on the resources of his inheritance, and he married an heiress from Devon, Sarah Paige, whose father had died when she was 11, leaving Sarah and her sister each a £12,000 dowry. The Rustats lived well, extended the Rectory, and laid out extensive grounds. They had estates around Suffolk, but no children.

Gainsborough painted Rustat’s portrait in 1756 or 1757, at a time when he had a number of commissions from clergymen, and he also painted Sarah Paige, Mrs. Rustat, a year or two later.

In his will, Tobias left £300 to a godson William Lynch, who was presumably related to the William Lynch we have already mentioned.

We will leave Tobias Rustat with this brief notice of his farming prowess from an advertisement in the Ipswich Journal of 1790:

To be Sold

A Beautiful Black and White BULL, Spotted with great variety of round black spots; of remarkable fine shape and great one; bred from the stock of the Rev. Tobias Rustat of Stutton, long distinguished for his elegant taste for spotted cattle, of every colour as fashion has varied; and for which it is computed by a very accurate calculator, that he has paid Two hundred pounds for spots. The above bull is now two years old, perfectly sound, free from vice, and may be seen at Mr. Joseph Rowe’s, farmer at Tuddenham near Ipswich, who will sell the same.


Lewin, P.I. (1989/90). “The Revd Tobias Rustat of Stutton and his family”, Gainsborough’s House Society Annual Report, 35–39.


Method of Perspective

Joshua Kirby’s main claim to fame rests on his book, Method of Perspective, or, to give its full title in the 18th century way, `Dr. Brook Taylor’s Method of Perspective Made Easy, Both in Theory and Practice. In Two Books. Being an Attempt to make the Art of Perspective easy and familiar; To Adapt it intirely to the Arts of Design; And To make it an entertaining Study to any Gentleman who shall chuse so polite an Amusement’.

A textbook on perspective may not seem an obvious sequel to his previous antiquarian volume, `An Historical Account of the Twelve Prints of Monasteries, Castles, antient churches, and Monuments, in the County of Suffolk’. While the earlier work had been successful, it was targeted at a Suffolk audience of clergymen, gentry, and local politicians. The Method of Perspective drew in an quite different subscriber list, as we shall see, despite Kirby’s remaining attention to ‘Gentlemen’ and their Amusements. By this time, 1754, Kirby was good friends with both the young Thomas Gainsborough, and the much older William Hogarth. Hogarth supported the endeavor. In his own book, Analysis of Beauty, published in 1753, the only mention of perspective is to give a reference to Kirby’s forthcoming work. More famously, Hogarth supplied the eccentric, and wonderful, frontispiece to Kirby’s book, the Satire on False Perspective, now reproduced in almost every book on perspective.

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