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Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Gibbs

The following text is from the National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977 (now out of print). For the most up to date research on the Collection, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text. This can be accessed by following the link with each portrait’s title.

In consulting the following, please note that apart from the reformatting which allows the printed catalogue to be made available on-line the text is as published in 1977. Footnotes in the original edition are given within square brackets.

Contents Foreword Introduction Catalogue scope Abbreviations Arrangement of entries

Joseph Gibbs (1699-1788)

Organist at St Mary le Tower, Ipswich; composer of Eight Solos, with a Thorough Bass for Harpsichord; friend of Gainsborough; an obituary notice records that he was 'universally loved and respected', and in his profession, 'eminently distinguished, both as composer and performer'. [1]

2179 By Thomas Gainsborough
Oil on canvas, 23 7/8 x 19 ¾ in. (606 x 502 mm); brown eyes, large nose, fresh complexion, grey wig to below ears; white shirt, black waistcoat, plain grey velvet coat with turned-down collar; a row of bound volumes of music on a shelf behind, the red panels of the spines lettered in gold Corelli and Gem.[iniani], also a writing stand with white quill, ink pot and music manuscript marked SONATA; plain brown background; lit from left.

A manuscript label at the bottom of the stretcher, in an early hand and partly illegible, after touching with ammonium sulphate in 1928, was read by Hake: This portrait of Mr. Gibbs I by Gainsborough [belongs] to FANNY BULLEN.

The portrait is of Gainsborough's Ipswich period, probably the mid 'fifties, and is very close to that of 'an unknown man', collection Mrs Isherwood Kay, [2] sometimes suggested as a member of the Gibbs family. The music has not been identified. It is not one of Corelli's violin sonatas nor one of the Eight Solos, Gibbs' only known published work, which appeared in 1748.

Condition: a blister between the two books was laid in 1931.

Collections: bought, 1928, through Leggatt's; at Christie's, 20 June 1919, lot 65, anonymous property [George Bullen], bought (in?) Wheeler, and again at Christie's, 27 January 1928, lot 117, by order of Bullen's executors, bought in. [3] Exact descent has yet to be established but from correspondence with R.H.Lingwood (pseudonym 'Rambler') of the East Anglian Daily Times, apparently confirmed by the manuscript label read in 1928, it would seem to come through John Bullen of Lowther, Westmorland, rector of Newbourn, Suffolk, and of Kennet, Cambs., who married 21 October 1757, Anne, the sitter's elder daughter and executrix. In 1936 C. Allix, agent to the Duke of Devonshire, told Steegman that the picture had belonged to his family and hung in his home at Swaffham until sold, about 1922, at Foster's in Pall Mall for £25, the vendors having no knowledge of its previous history, thus implying another version; none appears to be recorded.

Exhibited: 'Church Treasures of the Archdeaconry of Ipswich', Ipswich, 1965.

Literature: G.W. Fulcher, Life of Gainsborough, 1856; W.T. Whitley, Gainsborough, 1915; E.K. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, 1958.


An unfinished sketch described as 'exceedingly spirited' and 'the more interesting as it was composed from memory', was acquired by Mr Strutt at the Gainsborough sale of 1759. [4] The picture (15 x 20 in.), last heard of at the J.G. Strutt sale, 1856, [5] depicted the Ipswich musical club with a self-portrait of the artist, Wood, a dancing master playing the violin, Captain Clarke and one, Mills 'merely outlined, Gainsborough declaring that he "could not recollect the expression of his phiz." Gibbs, on the opposite side . . . is sound asleep'. [6] No other portraits appear to be recorded.

It has been suggested by Mr Lingwood [7] that a portrait of Gibbs appears in the lower panel of a painted clock in Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich. This is improbable, as is also the attribution to Gainsborough.


1. Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Grove, 5th edition, 1954, III, p.636; DNB gives b.1700 (?).
2. Waterhouse (764), pl.29.
3. Ibid (353), where purchaser given as Gooden and Fox, and the portrait (NPG 2179) referred to as ‘John' Gibbs.
4. Fulcher, pp.55-56, quoting Mr Strutt.
5. Waterhouse (748); Whitley, p.22.
6. Fulcher, p.56.
7. East Anglian Daily Times, 30 June 1928.

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