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Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Kirby

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

John Joshua Kirby (1716-74)

Artist; writer and lecturer on perspective, drawing master to George III; pub­lished an Historical Account of Suffolk, with his own topographical etchings, 1748, Dr. Brook Taylor's Method of Perspective made Easy . . .,1754 and The Perspective of Architecture . . .,1761; clerk of the works at Kew Palace; friend of Gainsborough beside whom he is buried at Kew; Sarah, daughter of his marriage to Sarah Bull of Framlingham, Suffolk, and wife of James Trimmer of Brentford, was the popular writer of books for the young.

1421 With his wife, by Thomas Gainsborough
Oil on canvas, 29 ¾ x 25 3/8 in. (756 x 651 mm); brown eyebrows, brown eyes, pink cheeks, grey wig; deep blue hat, coat and trousers, scarlet waistcoat, a dog with brown and white markings on his left; Mrs Kirby, on his right: dark brown eyebrows and eyes, pink cheeks, fresh complexion; white lace cap, blue dress and matching hat held on her lap; background of autumn foliage.

A label of the 'Bicentenary Memorial Exhibition of Thomas Gainsborough', Ipswich, 1927, removed to the picture dossier.

Neither the date of NPG 1421 nor that of the sitter's marriage is available. Kirby's daughter Sarah was born in 1741. Although the pose can be paralleled in a drawing of a seated youth dated by Hayes to the mid 40s, [1] the fluent handling of NPG 1421 points rather to the early 50s. Gainsborough came to know the Kirbys only when he moved to Ipswich. [2] He had apparently settled there by June 1752, [3] having first returned to Sudbury after the death of his father on the 29 October 1748. A stylistic point that seems so far to have escaped attention is the closeness in design and handling between NPG 1421 and Gainsborough's self-portrait with his wife and daughter in the Cholmondeley collection, [4] usually dated c.1751-52. The composition is almost a mirror of NPG 1421 and the manner of painting the panels of the ladies' skirts almost identical; both may therefore have been painted at about the same time.

Condition: slightly worn; the blue of Kirby's coat may have faded; slight pentimenti along his left arm, and in the dog's head; discoloured varnish and paints partially removed, 1956; the raised left wing of Mrs Kirby's skirt, painted over his coat, may be an alteration in design.

Collections: bought, 1905, from Shepherd Brothers, King Street; presumably painted for the sitter and descended through his grandson, last surviving child of his daughter Sarah, the Rev. Henry Scott Trimmer, Vicar of Heston (d.1859); at Christie's, 17 March 1860, lot 40, [5] sale of his property, bought in (?) though, in the National Gallery copy of the catalogue, the purchaser is given as the dealer Waters and the sum paid £13.10s; Christie's, 14 March 1903, lot 119, anonymous property (i.e. Trimmer); [6]NG catalogue notes the name Garland as purchaser and the sum paid £42. 0s 0d.

Exhibited: ‘NPE', 1868 (910), lent by the Rev. Kirby Trimmer; 'Bicentenary Memorial Exhibition of Thomas Gainsborough', Ipswich, 1927 (14); 'The Conversation Piece in Georgian England', Kenwood, 1965 (18); 'English painting from Hogarth to Turner', British Council, 1966-67 (31).

Literature: E. Edwards, Anecdotes of Painters, 1808; W.T. Whitley, Thomas Gainsborough, 1915; M. Davies, National Gallery Catalogues, British School, 2nd edition, 1959; J. Hayes, The Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough, 1970.


The only substantial account of Kirby is by Gainsborough who painted him three times: NPG 1421 (above) and two single portraits of which one, stated to be of the mid 1750s, [7] is in the Victoria and Albert Museum; the other is in the Fitzwilliam. [8] The latter has been equated with the portrait sent to the Society of Artists exhibition (37) in 1764. [9] A drawing by Gainsborough 'A landscape with a courtship—portraits of Jos. Kirby and his wife', apparently lot 4 of the 1860 Trimmer sale, is not now known. A profile drawing by P. Falconet signed and dated 1768, collection W.A. Brandt was at Christie's, 12 November 1968, lot 50. It was engraved by D.P. Pariset. The DNB records a portrait by Hogarth in the collection, 1867, of G.C. Handford. [10]


1. Hayes, I, p.110.
2. Edwards, I, p.44.
3. Hayes, I, p.3; Waterhouse, 1958, p.17, gives the year 1750.
4. Waterhouse, 1958, p.69 (296), & frontispiece.
5. Gainsborough's 'Landscape with Gipsies', lot 35.
6. Davies, p.42 (5845).
7. Waterhouse, 1958, p.77 (418).
8. Ibid, (419).
9. Whitley, p.43.
10. DNB, XI, p.199.