‘’Gainsborough in London ’’

Summary of The Friends of St Anne’s Virtual Zoom Webinar Lecture 

Wednesday 14th April   2021

By Dr Susan Sloman FSA

We were delighted to welcome Dr Susan Sloman to give her wonderful lecture in April 2021 by Zoom Webinar. Dr Susan, who despite living in Bath is familiar with St Anne’s Church and Kew because of Gainsborough’s Tomb in the Churchyard. We were delighted when Susan contacted the Friends in November 2020 telling us of her new book that was to be published in March 2021 and offering to do a lecture for us. 

Dr Susan an Independent Art Historian and a Gainsborough Scholar discussed her new book on Thomas Gainsborough’s life and art in London between 1774 and 1788 focusing on the last fifteen years of his career. The book shows how this most colourful, sensitive, and single-minded of painters achieved a level of commercial success and personal fulfilment that evaded others. The talk unveiled new discoveries about his life and work in Pall Mall and reconsidered the subject of his affection for Kew, and for St Anne’s, which his architect friend Joshua Kirby remodelled. 

Gainsborough had been sent to London aged 13 to study and had visited many times during his time living in Bath so when he relocated to London in the last 15 years of his life it was familiar. We were treated to excellent drawings of Schomberg House on Pall Mall where he lived and created his studio and showroom. He purposely selected this area as it was a very fashionable street close to the Royal residencies and other retailers and neighbours such a James Christie the auctioneer whose portrait is in the book.

The book is full of many superb paintings and Susan explained to us that it was 18th Century practice to produce paintings in standard sizes to fit in logical sequences in the grand houses of the time. Some were exceptionally large indeed such as 92” x 98”.

Another interesting fact was that Gainsborough’ s paintings at times looked like watercolours, this was because he used very thin paint. However, she reported that many of his paintings are not in good condition because of the deterioration most likely the bitumen in the paint.  

We were shown some interesting drawings around Kew Green including the Kings Arms pub where Bach and Abel – (another friend of Gainsborough – he loved music too) would stay and practise before playing for Queen Charlotte. These included a rare old watercolour of St Anne’s Church between 1714 to 1786 from the British Museum, the house on Kew Green where Gainsborough rented when not in his London residence. 

Gainsborough, wanted to be buried in St Anne’s Churchyard near to his dear friend Joshua Kirby whom he had met as a young man. He did not want a grandiose funeral, hence the slab on the grave is very plain leaving room for his wife and family including his nephew Gainsborough Dupont.   

Susan gave us further extracts from the book revealing Gainsborough’s last words and the myth surrounding them as. 

  • ‘We are going to Heaven and Vandyke is of the Party’ William Jackson.
  • Vandyke was right’ William Pearce‘s version –  he was present at his deathbed. 
  • ‘Vandyke’ as reported by Gainsborough’s daughter, also at his deathbed, as reported to the landscape painter James Ward. 

All three were published over the period of 300 years, the last one as recently as 2015, which Susan is of the opinion that this is most likely the correct version. Gainsborough as many other painters was greatly influenced by Vandyke hence these words. 

It was an amazing interesting and informative summary of Dr Susan’s book which having bought the book – it is so beautifully presented with such extensive research and pictures of many paintings. It is interesting to note how many galleries in the USA have collections of his paintings whom they revere as the best 18thCentury Portrait painter and of course have the revenue to purchase so many. 

And of course – although this was not discussed by Dr Susan in her lecture, she has revealed that several prints in both Tate Britain and The British Museum as well as other overseas galleries that are in fact painted by Gainsborough Dupont, his nephew who had been taught to copy him. All these galleries are now changing their websites, database, and catalogue’s. See the full article on our website here too. 

We had around 100 plus people attending, including two curators from Tate Britain, Art Historians who have given us lectures in the past. Many people expressed how much they learnt about this great man that is in the midst of us at St Anne’s Churchyard. 

Lorraine Neale

Chairman The Friends of St Anne’s Church Kew

April 2021

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