The Circus

The Circus

Pp. 375-379


Once the Gainsboroughs were  settled in their new premises in Schomberg House in London's most sought after area, they discovered a neighbour was to be none other than the notorious 18th C sex therapist, Dr James Graham who, in 1781 set up his Temple of Hymen next door.  There he installed his  newly-built 'celestial' bed, a massive electrified structure measuring 12 feet by 9 feet, destined to be occupied by the rich and famous seeking the remarkable doctor's cures (or thrills) for problems of a sexual nature.

Dr Graham hired a pretty young woman called Emma Lyon to play the Goddess of Health in his establishment and she,  the Gainsborough's neighbour,     became painter Romney's most desired model and later achieved world fame as the seductive Lady Hamilton, mistress of Lord Nelson.   Max  Rothschild believed that the artist and his wife and daughters must have met her, writing that she might have sat for the picure of "Musidora" in the National Gallery, which Rothschild claims to be one of the very rare attempts at the nude which Gainsborough is known to have made.

Gainsborough might have been  affected by the economic downturn immediately after the move to London, but he opened his studio to anyone willing to pay his fee, however disagreeable he might have thought the sitter, and things began to improve.

By 1778 he had sufficient means to purchase a fashionable coach to the delight of Margaret and her daughters, employed a coachman as well as his footman plus the female indoor staff and Dupont Gainsborough as an apprentice.  At the same time he enlarged his premises in Pall Mall by building extra studio space and later bought a property on Richmond Hill and possibly a cottage in Essex.

In 1777 he had been  commissioned to paint portraits of the royal family which increased his affluence and his influence (but failed to get him the longed for knighthood) and after an absence of some years following a disagreement with the Trustees he exhibited some exceptional masterpieces at the Royal Academy. 

Two years earlier he had written to his sister, Mary Gibbon, telling her he was living in relative luxury at a cost of about £1000 per year.  He  complained that his wife was "weak but good" and criticized her for doing little to make him happy, at the same time admitting that he knows she will never change in this respect.  Margaret junior was a good, sensible girl he wrote, but she could be insolent at times.  On the other hand Mary, prior to her marriage to Fischer the musician, was  playing sly tricks behind her parents' backs by communicating with Fischer against their wishes.  Thomas and Margaret were openly quarrelling about money at this time, Margaret, he complained to his sister, was trying to "govern" him.

Sadly, Gainsborough family matters became increasingly worrying, with deaths occurring in the Sudbury branch, followed by deep concern caused by the unfortunate marriage of daughter Mary to Fischer, a union which the parents bitterly opposed and which faced problems from the start, largely because of Mary's mental state.  The marriage ended after six months when Mary returned to live with her parents and her sister.