Karl Friedrich Abel

1 portrait

Karl Friedrich Abel, by Thomas Gainsborough, circa 1765 - NPG 5947 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Karl Friedrich Abel

by Thomas Gainsborough
oil on canvas, circa 1765
49 7/8 in. x 39 7/8 in. (1267 mm x 1013 mm)
Purchased with help from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, 1987
Primary Collection
NPG 5947


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  • Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), Portrait and landscape painter. Artist associated with 262 portraits, Sitter in 8 portraits.

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One of the last of the great viola da gamba virtuosi, Abel arrived in London in 1759 and was famous for the subscription concerts which he organised with Johann Christian Bach at the Hanover Square Rooms. Abel and Gainsborough were close friends who shared a passion for the viola da gamba and a love of life. Gainsborough became a skilful performer on the instrument and his careful portrayal of the underhand grip of the bow in this portrait reflects his understanding. In return for his teaching Abel received some paintings and many drawings by his friend. On Abel's death Gainsborough said, 'I shall never cease looking up to heaven the little while I have to stay behind - in hopes of getting one more glance of the man I loved from the moment I heard him touch the string'.

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