Along with his contemporary Joshua Reynolds, Gainsborough was one of the leading figures in the glamorous “golden age” of British portraiture. The present portrait is an early work, painted soon after Gainsborough’s return to his native Suffolk from London, where he trained with the French engraver Hubert Gravelot. The sitter has been traditionally identified as a member of the Lloyd family of Ipswich.
Gainsborough’s early, small-scale pictures of figures in a parkland setting with ornamental statuary show the influence of his mentor Francis Hayman, and ultimately the example of the fêtes galantes of Jean-Antoine Watteau. In contrast to the rod-stiff posture of many of his early female sitters, here Gainsborough has adopted the informal cross-legged pose favored by Hayman. In a series of preliminary drawings, he worked out the relationship of the figure to the outdoor setting. The twined trees at the right mimic her crossed limbs and draw the eye to her blue silk dress with side hoops and the gauzy fabric surrounding the fashionable straw hat nestled in her lap. The feathery brushwork and cool tonality of the background reflect the influence of French painting, while the more carefully delineated burdock plant in the foreground was a motif Gainsborough knew from Dutch landscapes, and also sketched from life. The charm and unaffected elegance of this early portrait, with its dazzling costume, owes much to Gainsborough’s mastery of fluidly applied paint and brilliant effects of light.
The painting has recently been reframed in a British openwork Rococo frame of the period.
Sir William Knighton [1776-1836], Horndean, Hampshire, England.
Walter M. de Zoete [d. 1935], Layer Breton, Colchester, and Blenheim House, North Berwick, England.
(Leggatt Brothers, London);
(Scott and Fowles, New York, by 1931);
(their sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, 28 March 1946, no. 84).
(Newhouse Galleries, Inc., New York);
purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Kay Kimbell, Fort Worth, 1946;
bequeathed to Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1964.