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Thomas Gainsborough

Portrait of Robert Harley


Thomas Gainsborough
Sudbury, England, 1727 – London 1788


Portrait of Robert Harley


About 1770


Oil on canvas


75.6 x 62.9 cm


Gift of Miss Olive Hosmer, inv. 1961.1305


Western Art

This excellent example of Gainsborough’s mature Bath-period works dates from 1759 to 1773. The artist first settled in the city with its famous spa — the retreat in England for high-society Londoners — in 1759, moving to a commodious house. His success and social rank permitted him to have three large rooms on the first floor for a studio and a portrait gallery. He exhibited his works together with paintings and copies of works by Rubens and Van Dyck, emphasizing his affiliation with the Flemish masters. Van Dyck had been the leading portrait painter to the English aristocracy in the 1630s. Dorothy Richardson mentioned this portrait in the back of a 1770 guide to Bath, the year she visited the artist’s studio. The barrister at law, Robert Harley, died, without an heir. Harley was related to the Honourable Thomas Harley, who commissioned the monumental Portrait of Mrs. George Drummond (born Martha Harley), also exhibited in this gallery. As a three quarter pose, the Barrister wears a white wig, a black coat and his right hand is positioned inside his embroidered yellow waistcoat. His pose evokes the presence of a litigant.

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