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Sarah Kirby (née Bull); (John) Joshua Kirby

1 of 262 portraits by Thomas Gainsborough

Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Sarah Kirby (née Bull); (John) Joshua Kirby

by Thomas Gainsborough
circa 1751-1752
30 1/4 in. x 25 1/8 in. (768 mm x 637 mm)
NPG 1421

Inscriptionback to top

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

This portraitback to top

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.

Footnotesback to top

1) J. Hayes, The Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough, 1970, I, p 110.
2) E. Edwards, Anecdotes of Painters, 1808, I, p 44.
3) J. Hayes, The Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough, 1970, I, p 3; Sir Ellis K. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, 1958, p 17, gives the year 1750.
4) Sir Ellis K. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, 1958, p 69 (296), & frontispiece.

Physical descriptionback to top

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.

Conservationback to top

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.

Provenanceback to top

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, [1] 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); [2] National Gallery catalogue notes the name Garland as purchaser and the sum paid £42.0s 0d.

1) Gainsborough's 'Landscape with Gipsies', lot 35.
2) M. Davies, National Gallery Catalogues, British School, 2nd edition, 1959, p 42 (5845).

Exhibitionsback to top

Third Exhibition of National Portraits, South Kensington, 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).


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977, 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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