The Circus

The Circus

Pp 349-352

Henry Angelo claimed that at Gainsborough's house in Pall Mall a little later the painter told him he detested painting portraits and disliked the gentry who paid for them.   He added that trying to produce something representing a human resemblance from these blockheads was so demanding a process it was enough to cause a saint to cut his own throat with his own palette knife.

The 4th Duke of Bedford was one of Gainsborough's neighbours, living in the same south-facing segment of The Circus but the painter claimed he had no time for gentlemen of the upper classes who expected him to kow-tow to them.

Philip Thickness said Gainsborough knew how to think and act as a  gentleman in spite of his background, and had nothing but contempt for those who dared to treat him in any other way.  Soon after moving into No. 17 he employed "my man" to answer the bell at the front door.  If gentlemen callers wanted to inspect paintings in the exhibition room on the first floor an entrance fee of a shilling was pocketed and  the visitor was  politely shown upstairs.   But should they ask to see Gainsborough, his servant had to clarify the situation:  if the caller was a potential sitter and enquired about a portrait, he was intrdouced to the painter.  If he simply wanted to meet the artist, to see him "bow and scrape," he was crisply informed that Mr Gainsborough was not at home.   However, Gainsborough made it clear in a letter to a friend that should a handsome lady call at the house an entirely different welcome awaited her.  The exact nature of this welcome is not known but might be guessed at as the recipient of the letter blacked out the bawdy remarks that followed.

At the age of 47 Gainsborough was chafing at the bit:  he was restless, hated being tied to the routine business of painting portraits in order  to keep the household running.  He was longing, he wrote to a friend, to be done with domestic restraints, imagining a life of freedom in a little village in the countryside where he could live, play his beloved musical instruments and amuse himself by painting landscapes.   He  abhorred his current life of demanding social commitments forced upon him by his wife and daughters, intent on attendingttea parties, dancing and "husband huntings."  He was doubtful of the successful outcome of the latter and deeply resented the domestic restrictions also forced upon him.

In spite of all her endeavours to find suitable husbands for her daughters, Margaret's social activities were rarely reported in the press although Gainsborough's unusually accurate ability to capture a likeness in his sitters was recorded there in the period he was working from home here in The Circus.