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Johann Christian Bach

1 portrait of Thomas Gainsborough

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Johann Christian Bach

by Thomas Gainsborough
circa 1776
29 3/4 in. x 24 3/8 in. (755 mm x 620 mm) lined
NPG 5557

This portraitback to top

Gainsborough remained a close friend of Bach, even though the composer once described his bassoon playing ‘as the veritable praying of a jack-ass’, [1] and he helped decorate the concert rooms in Hanover Square jointly owned by Gallini, Abel and Bach. [2] Gainsborough’s portrait has been described as conveying excellently Bach’s ‘assured, confident, kindly’ character. [3]
NPG 5557 is an almost indistinguishable replica of the portrait now in the Civico Museo, Bibliografico Musicale, Bologna, [4] commissioned by Bach’s teacher, the composer and historian G. B. Martini. On 22 May 1776 Bach told Martini his portrait was already finished, but he did not send the ‘excellent portrait of myself by one of our best painters’ until 1778. [5] The delay may have been due in part to the painting of the replica, [6] as had happened with the portrait of Garrick, NPG 5054 - a portrait equally notable for intimate characterisation within a half-length format.

Footnotesback to top

1) H. Angelo, Reminiscences, 1904, I, pp 142-43, and see C. S. Terry, J. C. Bach, rev. ed., 1967, pp 92-93.
2) See W. T. Whitley, Thomas Gainsborough, 1915, p 114; C. S. Terry, J. C. Bach, rev. ed., 1967, p 141.
3) L. Stainton, Gainsborough and his Musical Friends, 1977, under no.9.
4) Exhibited Romantic Art in Britain, Detroit, Philadelphia, 1968 (19); Gainsborough, London, 1980 (118), and Paris, 1981 (47); Gainsborough, Ferrara, 1998 (19).
5) C. S. Terry, J. C. Bach, rev. ed., 1967, pp 151, 160.
6) M. I. Wilson, Apollo, CV, 1977, p 109; Stainton (at note 3).

Referenceback to top

Terry 1967
C. S. Terry, J. C. Bach, rev. ed., 1967, pp 151, 160.

Waterhouse 1953
E. K. Waterhouse, ‘Preliminary Check List of Portraits by Thomas Gainsborough’, Wal. Soc., XXXIII, 1953, p 5.

Waterhouse 1958
E. K. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, 1958.

Wilson 1977
M. I. Wilson, Apollo, CV, 1977, pp 109-10.

Physical descriptionback to top

Brown eyes, powdered hair, lace neckcloth, wearing a pink coat with silver trim and a rich blue waistcoat with silver trim; a diamond ring on his little finger.

Provenanceback to top

Painted for the sitter;1 Anna Robson (d. 1857), widow of Thomas Mudge; her daughter Charlotte Walcott;2 Walcott sale, Christie’s, 4 July 1874, lot 91, bought in; Christie’s, 3 July 1875, lot 70, bought in; bought privately by Sir Charles Mills, later 1st Baron Hillingdon; by descent to the 5th and last Baron; purchased from the Trustees of the Hillingdon Estate 1983.

1 As stated by C. S. Terry, J. C. Bach, rev. ed., 1967, p 151n2; J. Hayes, Gainsborough, 1975, p 218.
2 The stretcher bears the seal of the Robson family and is inscribed: The property of Mrs Mudge/widow of Mudge/& of her daughter Charlotte.

Exhibitionsback to top

Gainsborough, 45 Park Lane, London, 1936 (17) as 'Sebastian Bach'; Gainsborough and his Musical Friends, Kenwood, 1977 (9); Century of Keyboard Instruments, Cambridge, 1983.


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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