Gainsborough

Gainsborough

Gainsborough

Gainsborough

Excerpt

GAINSBOROUGH was so nearly the exact opposite in temperament to Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose bent of mind was intellectual and worldly, and whose preference went towards the society of men of letters, that some knowledge of the man is of considerable help before making the attempt to analyse his style. His character shines forth from his letters to intimate friends, especially the series to Unwin, the lawyer, and to Jackson, the musician: and we have Jackson's own account of him, published in 1798, as well as the impulsive obituary pamphlet by the eccentric Philip Thicknesse, penned at a single sitting soon after Gainsborough's death. Mr Whitley, in his biography, oddly understresses the evidence of these two friends of long standing, partly because other biographers of Gainsborough had used them before, and partly because he thought them spiteful and biased. Thicknesse was certainly a spiteful character, but his genuine affection for Gainsborough (though not for his wife) was clearly sincere: and Jackson, who probably makes a little malicious fun over Gainsborough's musical pretensions--which touched his own profession--may well have been right in his assertion that Gainsborough's character "was, perhaps, better known to me than to any other person". All the scattered fragments of evidence from other sources confirm the essential validity of the impressions given by these two friends.

Thicknesse says of Gainsborough that "of all the men I ever knew, he possessed least of that worldly knowledge, to enable him to make his own way into the notice of the Great World". He gives good evidence of his impulsive generosity and of the general benevolence of his nature, and there is other evidence to justify his remark that, at home, Gainsborough "seldom had his own way, but when he was roused to exert a painful authority for it, and then he flew into irregularities, and sometimes into excess, for when he was once heated, either by passion or wine, he continued unable and unwilling also, to do business at home".

From Jackson's two essays on the "Character" of both Gainsborough and Reynolds we get a complementary picture. The following extracts are not consecutive, but their rearrangement seems to me to be fair: "Gainsborough avoided the company of literary men, who were his aversion--he was better pleased to give, than to receive, information . . .

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