Gainsborough Dupont (British 1754-1797)


Portrait of Anthony Atkinson reading a book

Inscribed and dated below: Anthony Atkinson-Obit 1785 , graphite with red chalk, the sheet laid on a purple wash line mount with a black border

Drawing 12 x 12.5 cm; sheet 19.6 x 14.5 cm

Frost and Reed, London, no. D9988, 171

Another very similar portrait drawing by the artist of Lord John Pelham-Clinton, M.P., inscribed in the same way, dated 1782, mounted on the same purple wash line mount and with a slightly torn edge is in the collection of the Yale Centre for British Art (B.1977.14.5013).

Gainsborough Dupont was born in Sudbury, Suffolk on 24th December 1754, the third son of Philip Dupont, whose uncle was the painter Thomas Gainsborough. Sometime in the 1760s Dupont was sent to Bath to be raised by Mary Gibbon who set up a millinery shop there, beside her brother’s studio in 1762. His move may have coincided with that of his widowed aunt and his wife, Sarah (née Gainsborough). The earliest evidence of Dupont working in his uncle’s studio is a portrait of about 1768 known as the Pitminster Boy (private collection on loan to Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury) which has recently been identified as a likeness of Dupont. On 12th January 1772 Dupont was formally apprenticed to Gainsborough; on 6th March 1775, some nine months after the Gainsboroughs moved to London, he joined the Royal Academy Schools. After his formal training he worked in his uncle’s studio and continued to live in Schomberg House, Pall Mall where he learnt to scrape mezzotints and made small copies in oil after his uncle’s portraits. In 1784 Gainsborough tasked him with a commission to copy a portrait of Queen Caroline to accompany a portrait of her husband George III by John Shackleton in Huntingdon Town Hall. It was not until after Gainsborough’s death on 2nd August 1788 that his nephew had the opportunity to develop his own practice.

After his uncle’s death Dupont continued to work in his studio at Schomberg House. Portrait commissions came, from amongst others, some of the children of his uncle’s friends. In 1793 he was given his most prestigious commission to paint a huge canvas, larger than any his uncle had painted, of the Elder Brethren of Trinity House: thirty-one figures placed across a canvas nine and a half feet tall and nearly nineteen feet wide ([6]). The group portrait — commissioned to decorate the newly completed headquarters of Trinity House on Tower Hill — took three years to complete. In 1794 Thomas Harris (d. 1820), a theatrical proprietor, commissioned a series of spirited portraits of actors that are, with a few exceptions, now in the Garrick Club. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1790-1795.