Simeon and the Quest for the Roman Hoard

Dear Simeon, During a recent archaeological dig in Bath, a skeleton, believed to be of an elderly male dating back to Roman times, was discovered. Local media have leaked the intriguing news that, clutched in its hands, sealed inside a vessel, was a well-preserved treasure map with some mystifying scrawled notes. Experts at IES (Intrepid Explorers Society) are speculating that this map might lead to a stash of precious gems and possibly Roman gold, buried on an island somewhere in the Bristol Channel. Unfortunately, the very dodgy Brutally Awful Treasure Hunters (aka BATH) are also super keen to discover this lost treasure. IES don’t want them uncovering it before you do so get out there, solve the Clues and identify the location of this hidden hoard!

After receiving this intriguing quest from Treasure Trails, Simeon, the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please), grabbed his towel and headed to the bathroom. After laughing hysterically for some time about his mistake, Simeon got out of the bath and into the car to make the long journey from London to Bath in Somerset. Assisted by his friends, Simeon began a perilous expedition around some of the most beautiful, historic streets of Bath.

Simeon began his quest in the Bath Abbey Churchyard, where he squeezed through the crowds of people listening to the buskers. Towering above him, the Bath Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul stood in all its glory. Built between 1499 and 1533, the limestone building is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the United Kingdom. The abbey is the third building on the site, but there has been a church here for over 1,000 years. The Saxons built the first church in the 7th century, which was where King Edgar, the first king of all England, was crowned in 973. The second church was built by the Normans in the 12th century. The present building largely resembles the 16th-century architecture of the third building, although Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78) undertook a restoration project during the Victorian era.

Whilst the Abbey is an impressive structure, Simeon did not have time to admire it because he heard about the nearby Beau Street Hoard. Discovered in 2008, 17,577 silver Roman coins dating from 32 BC to 274 AD had been buried under the streets for thousands of years. It is the fifth-largest hoard ever found in Britain, unearthed during the construction of a swimming pool at the Gainsborough Hotel. The hoard consisted of eight money bags and 2,437 loose coins, which are now on display in the Roman Baths Museum. After some investigation, Simeon decided this was not the Roman hoard he was looking for and continued on his quest.

Around the corner, Simeon peered into the Cross Bath, but the clear water did not reveal any treasure. Constructed in 1784 and remodelled in 1789, the Grade I building houses a historic pool famed for its healing properties. The nearby St John’s hospital used the pool for treatments as early as 1180, and the royal family frequently visited between the 16th and 18th centuries.

The water in the Cross Pool fell as rain around 10,000 years ago in the Mendip Hills. After sinking 3 kilometres below the earth’s surface, geothermal energy heated the water, which eventually rose under natural artesian pressure. Legend claims the mythical Prince Bladud discovered the thermal waters in 863 BC, which cured him of his skin disease. The warm water allegedly contains over 42 different types of minerals. The bath and Victorian construction now belong to the adjacent Thermae Bath Spa.

As Simeon continued his journey around Bath, he came across a mystery. Beaufort Square, designed by John Strahan in 1730, appears to have two names. On one signpost, the name reads “Beaufort”, but on another, it says “Beauford”! There does not seem to be an explanation for this other than a spelling mistake, but it was enough to make Simeon stop in his tracks and look around. Beaufort square is surrounded by two-storey cottages and the original frontage of the Theatre Royal. In the centre, a small rectangular lawn is all that remains of the communal area. Simeon could not enter the garden but admired it from the railings. These date from 1805, and the spear shapes commemorate weapons used during the Battle of Trafalgar.

Simeon came across another strange site in Chapel Row, where he stopped briefly to rest. Standing separately from the other buildings is Temple Ornament, which was re-erected in 1976 by students of Bath Technical College. The limestone structure, featuring five Ionic columns, is situated on the original site of St. Mary’s Chapel, built between 1732 and 1734 by John Wood the Elder (1704-54). In 1875, the city demolished the church for road widening. The ornament was constructed from the ruined building.

After paying his respects at the war memorial on the corner, Simeon made his way along the Gravel Walk. The pathway leads past the gardens of the houses in Gay Street, where the English novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817) once lived. In Austen’s time, the Walk was known as Lover’s Lane and was where young lovers used to meet each other for a stroll. In Austen’s novel Persuasion (1817), it is the setting for a love scene between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Simeon did not see any Georgian ladies and gentlemen walking along the path, but he did come across an intriguing garden.

Signposted as the Georgian Garden, the gap in the wall led Simeon into a Georgian-style garden, which is a recreation of one of the gardens of the Circus (not a circus with animals, as Simeon later discovered). The project started in 1985 to replace the existing Victorian landscape with its former style. There was no grass in the original garden, only gravel and flower beds. Grass lawns were not easily maintained in the 18th century and only became popular after the invention of mechanical lawnmowers in 1832.

Excavation work revealed the original 18th-century layout, including the position of flowerbeds and paths. Dr John Harvey of the Garden History Society sourced appropriate plants, such as honeysuckle and other fragrant flowers. Towards the end of the 18th century, plants from Indo-China and the New World arrived in Britain, replacing many native plants in private gardens.

Keen to continue his quest, Simeon returned to the Gravel Walk and soon found himself in the Royal Victoria Park. Opened by the 11-year-old future Queen Victoria (1819-1901) in 1830, the 57-acre park consists of grasslands, tennis courts, a golf course, a botanical garden and a children’s playground. It was the first park to carry Victoria’s name and was privately owned until 1921 when it was taken over by the Bath Corporation.

Overlooking the Royal Victoria Park is the Royal Crescent, a row of 30 terraced houses laid out in a 500-foot-long (150 m) crescent shape. Built by John Wood the Younger (1728-82), the Grade I listed buildings feature 114 Ionic columns on the first floor with Palladian-style mouldings above. In front of the houses is a ha-ha (ditch), making an invisible partition between the lower and upper lawns. The latter is for residents only.

Notable residents of the Royal Crescent include William Wilberforce (1759-1833), who stayed at number 2; Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906), who lived with her father at number 16; and Elizabeth Linley (1754-92) at number 11, who eloped with the playwright, Richard Sheridan (1751-1816). “Would I like to live here?” pondered Simeon. After learning about Georgian lifestyles, particularly sedan chairs, at No. 1 Royal Crescent, a historic house museum, Simeon decided yes, he would.

On the corner of the Royal Crescent, Simeon looked for clues inside a silver-coloured telephone box. Whilst he did not locate any treasure, Simeon found some interesting information about the box. The telephone box or kiosk was designed by English architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) in 1924. Over the following years, the design was tweaked before settling on Kiosk no. 6 (K6). The bright red boxes were primarily used in London, but when they spread to neighbouring towns and cities, people complained about the bright colour. In response to the complaints and to coincide with King George V’s silver jubilee, the kiosks were painted battleship grey (silver) with touches of red around the windows.

Tempted to call the Treasure Trail team for more clues, Simeon noticed the kiosk did not contain a telephone. Whilst it is no longer in use, the kiosk is a listed structure of architectural and historical importance. Many K6s were painted the iconic red colour once people got used to their presence, so very few remain battleship grey, making them very rare. This particular box survived the Blitz and has remained in situ for over 80 years.

Next, Simeon visited the Circus, where except for himself and a few pigeons, no animals or entertainers could be seen. The Circus is a circular ring of terrace houses built between 1754 and 1768 by John Wood, the Elder. Its name comes from the Latin word circus, meaning circle. Today, it is a famous example of Georgian architecture and has been designated a Grade I listed building.

Wood was inspired by Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. Believing that Bath had once been a centre for Druid activity, Wood mimicked the neo-druid place of worship. Unfortunately, Wood died five days after the construction began and his son, John Wood, the Younger, oversaw the rest of the building project. On completion, it was named King’s Circus, although the royal title was later dropped.

Walking around the Circus, Simeon appreciated the various styles of architecture incorporated into the building. Each floor represents a different Classical order, with Doric on the ground level, Ionic or Composite on the piano nobile (principal floor), and Corinthian on the upper floor. The styles become progressively more ornate as the building rises. Between the Doric and Ionic levels, an entablature decorated with alternating triglyphs and 525 pictorial emblems completes the building’s design. Simeon enjoyed looking at the many images, including nautical, art, science and masonic symbols. He also spotted serpents and owls – so there are some animals in the Circus after all!

Simeon’s instructions eventually led him to Pulteney Bridge, where the confused little gibbon warily eyed the shops on either side, wondering why it was called a bridge. Only later did Simeon discover the buildings were constructed over the River Avon! Designed by Robert Adam (1728-92) in 1774, shops span the length of the Palladian-style Grade I listed bridge, making it a highly unusual construction.

Pulteney Bridge is named after Frances Pulteney, the first cousin once removed of William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath (1684-1764). When the Earl died, Frances inherited his estates and a significant amount of money. Her husband, William Johnstone (1729-1805), promptly changed his surname to Pulteney and made plans to create a new town, Bathwick, which eventually became a suburb of Bath. For easier access across the Avon, William Pulteney commissioned Adam to design a bridge, who took inspiration from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and the Ponte di Rialto in Venice. The original designs for Pulteney Bridge are held in the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. As of 2022, it is one of only four bridges containing shops across its entire span, the others being the aforementioned bridges in Italy and the Krämerbrücke in Erfurt, Germany.

As well as the bridge, Great Pulteney Street, Henrietta Street and Laura Place are the work of William Pulteney. Great Pulteney Street connects Bathwick with the City of Bath. It was designed by Thomas Baldwin (1750-1820) and completed in 1789. At over 1,000 feet (300 m) long and 100 feet (30 m) wide, Great Pulteney Street is the widest and the grandest road in Bath. Situated at one end is the Holburne Museum of Art, which was originally the Sydney Hotel. The hotel attracted many visitors, and several notable people lived on the street, including Napoleon III (1808-73), during his exile from France; William Wilberforce, who also stayed in the Royal Crescent; and the “Father of English Geology” William “Strata” Smith (1769-1839).

Henrietta Street and Laura Place were named after Pulteney’s daughters. Both were constructed in the late 1780s by Thomas Baldwin. Laura Place, situated at the end of Pulteney Bridge, is an irregular quadrangle containing four blocks of houses. In the centre sits a circular stone fountain, which was not part of the original plan. Instead, residents petitioned for a column similar to Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London, but when construction began, they realised it would tower over the area and petitioned against it.

After admiring the weir in the River Avon below Pulteney Bridge, Simeon made his way back to the Abbey for his final clues, resisting the urge to eat Sally Lunn’s buns and Charlotte Brunswick’s chocolates. Sally Lunn’s historic eating house is one of the oldest houses in Bath. It was allegedly the home of a Huguenot refugee called Solange Luyon during the 1680s, who became known as Sally Lunn. As a baker, Luyon or Lunn became famous for her buns, now known as Bath Buns.

It is claimed that Charlotte Brunswick was the first and finest chocolatier in Bath during the 18th century. Fascinated by flavour, she sought the perfect combination of ingredients to make her delicious chocolate. The men in her family were explorers and brought her back oranges from Spain and ginger and cinnamon from China, which she incorporated into her recipes. The Charlotte Brunswick Shop on Church Street continues to use many of the recipes today.

Another delicacy from Bath is the Bath Oliver biscuit, invented by the physician William Oliver (1695-1764). Some claim Oliver, not Sally Lunn, invented the Bath Bun, but after realising it was too fattening for his rheumatic patients, he sought an alternative. A Bath Oliver is a dry, cracker-like biscuit, often eaten with cheese. When Oliver died, he bequeathed the recipe, ten sacks of wheat flour, and £100 to his coachman, Mr Atkins, who set up a biscuit-baking business.

Back at the Abbey, Simeon used all the clues he had gathered to work out the location of the Roman Hoard. After celebratory ice cream, Simeon sat and reflected on the sites he saw around Bath. Simeon enjoyed walking along quaint streets, admiring the architecture, and felt humbled knowing he was walking in the footsteps of many famous people, not least the Romans. “I think I’ll visit Jane Austen for afternoon tea on Gay Street,” mused Simeon, not fully comprehending that he would not be able to see the REAL Jane Austen but a waxwork. “And after that, I’ll pop in and see Mary Shelley.”

Both the Jane Austen Centre and Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein are located on Gay Street, which links the Circus to Queen’s Square. It is named after Robert Gay (1676-1738), a Member of Parliament for Bath who leased part of his estate to John Wood the Elder for the construction of Queen’s Square.

Simeon recalled seeing many other names on plaques around the city, such as Beau Nash (1674-1762), the Master of Ceremonies at Bath. Nash made it his job to meet new arrivals to Bath and judge whether they were suitable to join the select “Company” allowed to attend dances and such-like. He infamously confronted John Wesley (1701-93), the founder of Methodism, when he began preaching in the city. Nash question Wesley’s authority, demanding to know who allowed him to speak to crowds of people. Wesley calmly answered, “Jesus Christ and the Archbishop of Canterbury.” Having lost the argument, Nash left Wesley alone, allowing the people of Bath to flock to hear the preacher speak.

Simeon did not like the sound of Beau Nash, but he was intrigued to learn about William (1738-1822) and Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), who lived at 19 New King Street. William Herschel famously discovered the planet Uranus, which resulted in his appointment as Court Astronomer to George III (1738-1820). His sister, Caroline, made several discoveries of her own and became the first woman to receive a salary as a scientist and the first woman in England to hold a government position. Today, 19 New King Street is home to the Herschel Museum of Astronomy. As well as documenting the Herschels’ astronomical finds, a room is devoted to their love of music, which originally brought the German siblings to England.

Another notable resident of Bath was Admiral Arthur Phillip (1738-1814), the first governor of the Colony of New South Wales. Simeon came across the Admiral’s memorial on Bennett Street during his quest for the Roman hoard. Installed in 2014 by the Britain-Australia Society Education Trust, the sculpture resembles an armillary sphere, which sailors used to determine their position in relation to Earth and the sun. Phillip commanded the first fleet of convicts sent to Australia and established a settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788. In 1793, he returned to England and settled in Bath for the remainder of his life.

Other notable residents of Bath include John Christopher Smith (1712-95), the secretary of the Baroque composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). Smith moved to Bath in 1774 after King George III granted him an annual pension. The 1st Earl of Chatham, also known as William Pitt the Elder (1708-78), lived in the Circus between 1757 and 1766 when he stood as the Member of Parliament for Bath. He then served as Prime Minister of Great Britain for two years.

The artist, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), lived in the Circus with his family from 1759 until 1774. During this time, he became a popular portrait painter for fashionable society. He eventually got bored of painting people and longed for the “quietness and ease” of landscapes. Another artist from Bath is Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), who from the age of ten, supported his family with his pastel portraits. Amongst his sitters were Duchess Georgiana Cavendish (1757-1806), who visited Bath in 1782, and Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), a Welsh actress, who first performed in Bath in 1778.

“Who knew there was so much to discover in Bath,” exclaimed Simeon. “I shall have to come back another time to learn more about the historic city.” As well as completing his Treasure Trail, Simeon visited some of the attractions and highly recommends the Abbey and Roman Baths. He also enjoyed the Jane Austen Centre, House of Frankenstein, No. 1 Royal Crescent, the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, and travelling on the sightseeing bus. There is only so much a little gibbon can fit into a week, so Simeon has plenty more places to explore on his next visit to Bath.

Simeon’s Top Tips

  1. Book tickets for the attractions in advance. Some places are limiting the number of visitors due to Covid-19. (Generally, it is best to book to avoid disappointment)
  2. Do not fall into the Roman Baths. You will get very wet.
  3. Do not pull a face if you try the waterYou will put other people off trying.
  4. Be respectful in the AbbeyIt is a place of worship.
  5. Pace yourself when climbing all the hillsBath is supposedly built on seven.
  6. Remember to use the Park and Ride buses if you are staying outside the city. Parking is free, you only pay for the bus ride.
  7. Do not get ink on your paws if attempting to write with a quill pen at the Jane Austen CentreSimeon did this and it was very messy.
  8. Buy a map. And try not to get lost.
  9. Only go into the basement at the House of Frankenstein if you are really brave. Simeon was not.
  10. Follow social distancing rules. Some places still request you wear a mask.

Read more of Simeon’s adventures:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part Two
Simeon goes to Grantham
Simeon and the Cable Car Mission


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Gainsborough’s Family Album

Since the beginning of the 20th century, family photo albums have documented the lives of families and individuals, often providing a visual narrative of the birth and ageing of different generations. Before the advent of photography, however, family albums did not exist and only an elite privileged few could afford to have their lives documented by portrait artists. In the 18th century, only royalty had the means to commission family portraits, with the exception of one man: Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88).

Primarily a landscape painter, Gainsborough painted and drew portraits of his immediate and extended family throughout his lifetime. Amounting to at least 50 artworks, the National Portrait Gallery has chosen to chart the career of one of Britain’s greatest painters from youth to maturity in their winter exhibition Gainsborough’s Family Album. Set out in chronological order, the paintings show the people who meant a lot to Gainsborough, particularly his daughters who grow from young children to beautiful, independent women.

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Self-portrait with his wife Margaret and eldest daughter Mary

The exhibition begins with The Artist with his Wife and Eldest Daughter Mary, which Gainsborough painted at the age of 22 shortly before his daughter died in her second year of life. Principally a landscape painter, preferring them over “damn’d faces”, Gainsborough combined the two genres in this painting, as he does with a handful of other portraits, to create a composition that portrays the couple as fashionable gentlefolk enjoying the countryside. Despite being middle-class, the outfits and posture of Gainsborough and his family suggest their aspirations to gentility.

Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk in 1727, the youngest son of a large family. Some of his brothers and sisters feature in portraits throughout the exhibition as well as their own children. As a child as young as ten, Thomas impressed his father with his drawing ability and was allowed to leave home in 1740 to seek an apprenticeship in London. Under the tutelage of the Frenchman Hubert-François Bourguignon (1699-1733), more commonly known as Gravelot, Gainsborough initially studied engraving. Nonetheless, his passion for painting thrived after he became associated with William Hogarth (1697-1764). Like Hogarth, some of Gainsborough’s work was produced for the Foundling Hospital set up by the philanthropic sea captain Thomas Coram (1668-1751) in 1739.

Not all of Gainsborough’s siblings feature in the exhibition, but those that do show off his skill at capturing likenesses. Although a landscape artist at heart, Gainsborough often focused solely on the faces, leaving the clothing unfinished and the backgrounds bare. It is thought Gainsborough may have deliberately left these incomplete to distinguish between private and commissioned work. On the other hand, Gainsborough’s main focus would have been on commissioned works, resulting in private portraits being abandoned.

A self-portrait from 1759 shows the type of backgrounds Gainsborough combined with portraits should he have the time or inclination to finish them. His painting of his brother Humphrey, however, represents the unfinished look of many of Gainsborough’s works in this exhibition. Unlike the elaborate outfits popular at the time, Humphrey, a non-conformist minister, wears black and looks piously into the distance. Susan Gardiner, however, the daughter of his sister Susanna, has a tenser facial expression, perhaps caused by the boredom of posing for too long.

Later in his career, Gainsborough painted his sister Sarah, also known as Sally, in highly fashionable attire. Being twelve years older than her brother, Sally is getting on in years, evidenced by her greying hair, partially hidden under a lace cap. Positioned next to her on the wall at the National Portrait Gallery is her husband, Philip Dupont. Unlike Sally, Gainsborough painted his brother-in-law wearing drab, unfashionable clothing, suggesting unfavourable feelings between the two men.

Other paintings of members of Gainsborough’s large family include his father John, the postmaster of Sudbury; his cousin Henry Burrough, the vicar of Wisbech; his brother John, also known as Scheming Jack due to his money-making ways, his sister Susanna; and Susanna’s son Edward. Interestingly, the portrait of an unnamed youth referred to as The Pitminster Boy, is also included amongst the family portraits. The boy would have worked as a servant for the artist, responsible for carrying painting equipment whenever Gainsborough desired to paint en plein air. During the 18th century, the term “family” was much broader than today’s sense, encompassing non-blood relations, servants and other members of the household.

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Margaret Gainsborough, the Artist’s Wife 1777

In 1746, Gainsborough married Margaret Burr, an illegitimate daughter of Henry Somerset-Scudamore, 3rd Duke of Beaufort (1707-1745). Margaret and Gainsborough’s relationship was not at its best for the majority of their lives, however, it improved in later years. Most portraits of Margaret were produced in the latter period and Gainsborough began gifting Margaret a small painting of herself annually on their wedding anniversary.

In all her portraits, Margaret is fashionably dressed, such as the 1777 painting produced for her 50th birthday where she wears a black mantilla. In this particular artwork, Gainsborough sits his wife in the pose of a classic statue of Pudicity, the goddess of modesty and chastity, or wifely virtue.

Initially, the married couple lived in Sudbury, but in 1752, they moved to Ipswich along with their two daughters, Mary (1750-1826), named for her deceased older sister, and Margaret (1752-1820), named for her mother. During his time in the county town, Gainsborough began to receive more commissions for private portraits, however, the majority of these clients were local merchants and squires and, therefore, did not pay generously for the artworks.

Gainsborough’s situation gradually improved after moving to Bath, the largest city in Somerset, where he was inspired by the paintings of Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641). Gainsborough admired the Flemish baroque painter so much, viewing his paintings as examples of perfection. Reportedly, Gainsborough’s final words on his deathbed in 1788 were “van Dyck was right”.

Whilst in Bath, Gainsborough began to attract a more fashionable clientele, thus his financial situation began to recover. He began submitting paintings to the Society of Arts exhibition in London, now known as the Royal Academy of Arts, of which he was a founding member along with Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92). Whilst these exhibitions gave him national recognition, Gainsborough eventually broke away from the Royal Academy, unhappy with the ways in which his paintings were being displayed.

The Gainsborough family’s final move was to London in 1774, where they resided in Schomberg House, Pall Mall, in which he held his first private exhibition in 1784. Whilst continuing to enjoy landscape painting, Gainsborough’s portraits were now of some of the most elite people in the country. These included Johann Christian Bach (1735-82), the youngest son of the famous composer, George III (1738-1820) and Charlotte, the Queen Consort (1744-1818).

Of all his family members, none feature so much in this exhibition than his daughters Mary and Margaret. From young children to independent ladies, Gainsborough documents the changes in their appearance as they grow up, the same way a parent would record their child’s progress with a camera today. Mostly, the girls are shown together, suggesting they got on amicably.

The earliest painting of the two girls together is the lifesize The Painter’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly. Set in the light of the summer evening, it is a representation of childhood spontaneity. The landscape in the background almost looks otherworldly, suggesting that in their young minds they are in a fairytale world rather than their back garden. The youngest daughter Margaret, who would have been three or four years old at the time, reaches out to touch a butterfly. Mary, on the other hand, tries to pull her sister away, noticing that the butterfly is perched on a prickly thistle. Perhaps, being older, Mary is more aware of the world around her than Margaret.

Other paintings of the young girls remain unfinished, such as the one their father began in 1759. Also known as The Artist’s Daughters playing with a Cat, the cat in question is hard to see, the outline is only faintly drawn in. Another unfinished portrait of Mary and Margaret shows the older of the two adjusting the other’s hair. Although Gainsborough is remarkably observant in his oil painting, the picture was damaged after being cut in half, trimmed and wrongly reassembled by a Victorian collector. Rather than being eye to eye, Mary would originally have been taller than her younger sister.

Gainsborough was lucky to have two such willing child models to paint during his early career. As well as portraits in general, Gainsborough experimented with a genre known as fancy painting. This was a type of 18th-century art that portrayed scenes of everyday life but with components of imagination or storytelling. Gainsborough’s fancy paintings usually involved peasant or beggar children, for example, the portrait of Margaret dressed up as a gleaner picking grain in the fields. Similarly to the previous painting, this one was cut in half and the section containing Mary, who presumably was also dressed as a farm worker, has been lost.

As the girls got older, Gainsborough worried about their economic security and tried to get them interested in landscape painting so that they could make a living. Although neither girl became a painter, one portrait of them shows that they were encouraged to practice drawing. In The Artist’s Daughters at their Drawing, the adolescent sisters retain some of the child-like facial features but their fashionable clothing suggests they are getting ever closer to maturity. This painting was also a compositional experiment for Gainsborough who originally painted Margaret facing her sister. A ghostly figure of this first attempt is beginning to show through the top layer of paint.

By the end of the exhibition, Mary and Margaret Gainsborough have grown into beautiful women and, although they did not fulfil their father’s dream of becoming painters, lived independently from their parents. A full-length painting shows them as fashionable women of society. Mary, perhaps being older, wears the grander dress, however, Margaret’s clothing is also of good quality. Dogs in paintings are often used to represent fidelity and no doubt this was Gainsborough’s aim in this image. The sisters remained loyal to each other throughout their whole lives. Margaret never married and Mary’s marriage to the oboeist Johann Christian Fischer (1733-1800), an associate of her father, only lasted a disastrous few months. As a result, Mary developed severe mental health problems and was looked after by Margaret for the rest of their lives.

Throughout Gainsborough’s career, he only took on one apprentice, Gainsborough Dupont (1754-97), the eldest son of his sister Sarah. Beginning in 1772, Dupont began working for Gainsborough and continued to do so until the latter’s death in 1788. Dupont was a student of the Royal Academy schools and his artwork is similar in style to his uncle. It is thought that Dupont finished a few of Gainsborough’s paintings.

Inspired by van Dyck’s paintings and the style of dress worn during the 17th century, Gainsborough painted his teenaged apprentice in a silk blue outfit similar to those painted by his hero. Critics looked on this painting favourably claiming it to be an example of modern painting at its finest. Philip Thicknesse (1719-92), a British author and friend of Gainsborough, announced the painting was “more like the work of God than man.”

Gainsborough painted another portrait of his apprentice after he had been accepted by the Royal Academy schools in which he looks like a fashionably dressed young man. Although it is not a finished work of art, it is one that Gainsborough was particularly pleased with. Before he died, he placed the portrait on his easel as if to say that was what he wished to be remembered for.

As well as portraits of his family, Gainsborough produced a few of himself, including an early attempt of himself wearing a tricorn hat. It is interesting to see how he ages, or at least how Gainsborough sees himself at different ages. Without photographs, it is impossible to determine how he truly looked, however, the exhibition includes a portrait of the artist by Johann Zoffany (1733-1810), which suggests Gainsborough captured a good likeness.

Similarly to present day family albums, Gainsborough also produced paintings of his pets. Titled Tristram and Fox, although whether this is the correct title is debatable, Gainsborough produced remarkably realistic depictions of two of the family pets. Fox, a spitz, sits on the left and is the more dominant of the two dogs, which may say something about his character. Tristram, on the other hand, a spaniel, is slightly hidden due to his dark colouring.

Art historian Michael Rosenthal (b1950) describes Gainsborough as “one of the most technically proficient and, at the same time, most experimental artists of his time.” Unfortunately, Gainsborough believed he had not reached his true potential, as he explained to Sir Joshua Reynolds on his deathbed shortly before he died from terminal cancer. Gainsborough wished his paintings to be judged in comparison to the standard of van Dyck, which blinded him to his own talent.

The National Portrait Gallery shows the British painter from a new and unique perspective. Rather than concentrating on skill, style or life achievements as many other exhibitions do, the NPG has created a much more personal display. As well as being able to appreciate his artwork, visitors are introduced to the artist himself and his family. It tells the story of Thomas Gainsborough’s life, both his career and life at home.

With a five star rating from more than one major newspaper, Gainsborough’s Family Album is a must-see for 18th-century art lovers. Focusing on portraits, the artist’s landscape talents also shine through. Although the exhibition lacks Gainsborough’s most famous works, there are enough paintings of extraordinary beauty to make up for this.

Gainsborough’s Family Album will be showing at the National Portrait Gallery until 3rd February 2019 in the Wolfson Gallery. Tickets cost £14 but members of the gallery may visit for free.

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