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John Henderson

10 of 262 portraits by Thomas Gainsborough

John Henderson, by Thomas Gainsborough, circa 1773-1775 -NPG 980 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

John Henderson

by Thomas Gainsborough
circa 1773-1775
29 1/4 in. x 24 1/4 in. (743 mm x 616 mm)
NPG 980

This portraitback to top

Gainsborough and Henderson had met at Bath, where Henderson made his stage debut in October 1772. Gainsborough came to admire his ability and, from the 'sincere desire I have of seeing you a great and happy man', urged him to study Garrick as much as he could and not to 'eat so devilishly'. [1] Three letters from Henderson mention portraits by Gainborough. On 3 August 1773 he told John Palmer, the manager of the Bath Theatre, that Gainsborough was ‘a varlet. He promised me a miniature from the picture of mine, but wits and genius, if they get nothing else from the Court, learn their d-d tricks of promising and forgetting’; [2] on 24 February 1775 he asked Mrs John Ireland if she had yet seen his picture at Gainsborough’s: ‘I intend it for my dearest Jack [John Ireland], [3] because I think it very like ...’, [4] and on 12 February 1777 he wrote from Bath to John Ireland: ‘I hope too, that Gainsborough will let you have my head – don’t you think it’s a very fine likeness.' [5] The first letter appears to confirm a portrait of 1773 (though strictly speaking not necessarily by Gainsborough); the others confirm a portrait or portraits by Gainsborough in 1774-75 and 1776-77. These letters have hitherto been taken to imply two portraits, one of 1773, the other of c.1777, [6] but there is much confusion.
Two may be identified today: NPG 980 and one known only through a half-length oval engraving by John Jones published on Henderson's death in 1789 (which appears to show an older head). As described below, an untraced portrait by Gainsborough of Henderson 'studying' was exhibited at the RA in 1780, and two further portraits, somewhat resembling this 1786 engraving , have been attributed to Gainsboorugh. [7]
Although no longer in prime condition, it is clear that NPG 980 was a freely-handled, informal portrait (the book has no legible text), and probably that mentioned by Henderson in 1773 and 1775; stylistically it could easily belong to Gainsborough’s late Bath period. [8] Waterhouse however believed it might be a portrait painted in 1777 and shown at the RA in 1780. [9] It remains unexplained why it was not engraved until 1783 (for what easily the most impressive print of Henderson). Two versions are recorded: one in the Treat Gallery, Bates College, Lewiston, Maine, the other, called Gainsborough Dupont, was with Ehrich, New York, in 1933.

Footnotesback to top

1) J. Hayes ed., Gainsborough Letters, 2001, pp 117 (Bath, 27 June 1773); a second letter to Henderson is dated 18 July 1772 (ibid., pp 117-18).
2) J. Ireland, Letters and Poems by the late Mr John Henderson with Anecdotes of his Life, 1786, p 125.
3) John Ireland (d. 1808), later the biographer of Henderson and Hogarth, who had probably introduced Henderson to Gainsborough (see W. T. Whitley, Thomas Gainsborough, 1915, p 86).
4) Ireland, op. cit., p 177.
5) Ibid., p 194.
6) Cf. E. K. Waterhouse, 'Preliminary Check List of Portraits by Thomas Gainsborough', Wal. Soc., XXXIII, 1953 and E. K. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, 1958, nos.360-61.
7) An otherwise unidentified 'Gainsborough' portrait of Henderson, 61 x 56 cm was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery, 1885 (142) lent Andrew Mackay.
8) Hugh Belsey also prefers a date in the early 1770s (letter of 1 October 2001; NPG archive).
9) E. K. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, 1958, no.360; followed, for example, by P. H. Highfill, K. A. Burnim & E. A. Langhans, A Biographical Dictionary of Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800, VII, p 261, no.4; J. Hayes ed., Gainsborough Letters, 2001, p 204.

Referenceback to top

Waterhouse 1953
E. K. Waterhouse, 'Preliminary Check List of Portraits by Thomas Gainsborough', Wal. Soc., XXXIII, 1953, p 56.

Waterhouse 1958
E. K. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, 1958, no.360

on both occasions as dateable 1777 and exhibited RA 1780 (194).

Physical descriptionback to top

Clear grey eyes, grey powdered hair, wearing a blue coat with a red collar, white neckcloth and cuffs.

Provenanceback to top

By descent to the sitter’s granddaughter, Miss Julia Carrick Moore, by whom presented 1895.

Exhibitionsback to top

British Institution 1817 (64) as Reynolds, lent Mrs Henderson;1 Genial Company, Nottingham, Edinburgh, 1987 (29); Gainsborough's Circle at Bath, 1988, Bath, 1988 (15); Gainsborough's House, Sudbury, 1962-.

1 There is no portrait of Henderson by Reynolds; G. W. Fulcher, Life of Thomas Gainsborough, 1856, p 218, listed the British Institution portrait as Gainsborough, and the provenance of NPG 980 implies that it was the portrait in question.

Reproductionsback to top

J. Jones 1783; R. Josey 1875.1

1 Described as In the collection of the Henderson family.


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, National Portrait Gallery, 2004, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

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