Gains­bor­ough por­trait found for­got­ten on cathe­dral wall

Life-size painting found in Here­ford was be­lieved to have been work of master’s nephew and ap­pren­tice

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Dalya Al­berge

A PAINTING by Thomas Gains­bor­ough has been dis­cov­ered in a cathe­dral, af­ter hang­ing for­got­ten for years in a dark cor­ner with­out any­one re­al­is­ing its prove­nance.

The hand of one of Bri­tain’s fore­most 18th-cen­tury masters has been iden­ti­fied in a life-size por­trait that had been rel­e­gated to a wall within the verger’s vestry at Here­ford Cathe­dral.

The Cathe­dral had be­lieved that it was by Gains­bor­ough Dupont, the artist’s nephew and sole ap­pren­tice.

But Hugh Belsey, a world author­ity on Gains­bor­ough, will be pub­lish­ing it for the first time in the cat­a­logue raisonné – the de­fin­i­tive study – of Gains­bor­ough’s por­traits and copies of Old Master works, to be pub­lished by Yale Uni­ver­sity Press next month.

“It’s an im­pres­sive pic­ture,” he told The Sun­day Tele­graph. “It should be con­sid­ered quite highly. It shows his char­ac­ter­is­tic han­dling of brush­work, so liq­uid and de­scrip­tive. It now sits im­me­di­ately above the verger’s of­fice, high on the wall, and no one pays any at­ten­tion to it at all… I saw it as best I could be­cause it’s re­ally very dif­fi­cult to see.”

He dates it to around 1770. The sit­ter is the Rev Isaac Don­nithorne. Or­dained in 1735, he later in­her­ited wealthy fam­ily es­tates in Cornwall, in­clud­ing tin min­ing that em­ployed 250 peo­ple at Pol­berra and pro­duced huge an­nual prof­its of £35,000.

“That is se­ri­ously shed­loads,” Belsey said, not­ing that Gains­bor­ough – as a fash­ion­able por­trait painter of his day – could com­mand fees of up to £120 for a full-length por­trait.

Don­nithorne is depicted in the por­trait as both cler­gy­man and busi­ness- man. Mr Belsey said that Here­ford’s pic­ture was Don­nithorne’s of­fi­cial por­trait in­tended for a “quasi-pub­lic body”. A more loosely-painted ver­sion, prob­a­bly pro­duced for the sit­ter, is in Fal­mouth Art Gallery.

His cat­a­logue raisonné will fea­ture around 1,100 Gains­bor­ough paint­ings. The last de­fin­i­tive study, pub­lished in 1958, was by Prof Sir El­lis Water­house, a former direc­tor of the Bar­ber In­sti­tute of Fine Arts in Birm­ing­ham.

Water­house be­lieved that the Here­ford pic­ture was by Gains­bor­ough Dupont, who was ap­pren­ticed to his un­cle be­tween 1772 and 1788, and painted in his style. Sev­eral paint­ings have been wrongly at­trib­uted to him. Mr Belsey said: “Water­house was very loath to have two por­traits by Gains­bor­ough of the same sit­ter in the same pose. I’ve al­ways con­sid­ered that it was easy money for Gains­bor­ough to paint two por­traits, and there are other ex­am­ples.”

In his cat­a­logue raisonné, he writes that the brush­work has none of Dupont’s “ner­vous pre­ten­sion”. The two-vol­ume study, ti­tled Thomas Gains­bor­ough: The Por­traits, Fancy Pic­tures and Copies af­ter Old Masters, will be pub­lished on Feb 26.

Mr Belsey said: “We prob­a­bly know most of the fa­mous pic­tures, but one or two have got away for what­ever rea­son. There­fore it gives you a com­plete pic­ture of his com­plete ac­tiv­ity.”

Here­ford Cathe­dral, whose stately nave dates from the 12th cen­tury, boasts the Mappa Mundi, the me­dieval Euro­pean map of the world and one of Bri­tain’s finest trea­sures.

The Very Rev Michael Tavi­nor, Dean of Here­ford, said: “This painting, over the years, has been dis­played in many places due to its im­pres­sive size and en­joyed by many. We are de­lighted to now re­ceive the news that it is con­sid­ered to be painted by Thomas Gains­bor­ough, hav­ing al­ways be­lieved that, due to the name plate, it was cre­ated by his nephew, Gains­bor­ough Dupont.” the uni­ver­sity, said the clock was tick­ing to en­sure they did not “turn into dust” as it was “vi­tal that we can bring the trees to an­other gen­er­a­tion”.

She said: “We want to try to freeze them in time. They are de­grad­ing ev­ery year. When they were first found in the box, I was quite sur­prised that they were avail­able to re­searchers to come and han­dle them as they wish.”

The uni­ver­sity is con­sult­ing spe­cial­ists at Kew Gar­dens.

Pre­vi­ously un­pub­lished im­ages show clip­pings from the trees planted by Lady Con­stance Lyt­ton and An­nie Ken­ney in April 1909 and Christa­bel Pankhurst’s planted in Novem­ber 1910.

They been in the archives since 1994, af­ter they were do­nated to the uni­ver­sity by the fam­ily of Ken­ney, af­ter whom the plan­ta­tion was named.

Fiona Sin­clair, the writer in res­i­dence, said: “These were women who, at the point the trees were planted, were out­laws.

“The trees are their legacy. They are a sign, I think, that they knew they were on the right side of his­tory.”

Tim Pryse-Davies, the dean’s verger at Here­ford Cathe­dral, in­spects Thomas Gains­bor­ough’s por­trait of the Rev Isaac Don­nithorne A clip­ping from a tree planted by suf­fragette An­nie Ken­ney in April 1909 at An­nie’s Ar­bore­tum, which hosted fig­ure­heads of the move­ment af­ter they had served prison sen­tences. It was found in archives at the Uni­ver­sity of East Anglia

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