The Circus

The Circus


18th C

Margaret Gaisnborough, now 46, faced the future as what then would be considered an elderly woman.   Her household consisted of a husband, now a famous artist at the peak of his powers, two spinster daughters approaching their mid twenties, one with mental health problems and both totally dependent on their parents for financial support.  In addition, one of Gainsborough's nieces lived with them and so did his nephew Dupont.  When the lad turned eighteen in 1772 he was formally apprenticed to Gainsborough who taught him to paint.  Under the terms of his contract Dupont's mother, Gainsborough's sister Sarah, was required to pay for his keep.  Was this clause inserted at Margaret's insistence?  Surely Gainsborough, known for his generosity, would not have required it.

A man servant was employed in the house, and there were probably at least two maids plus a washerwoman to help with domestic work.  Gainsborough must have employed additional help in the stable at the rear of the house in Circus Mews as he owned several horses at this time.

Gainsborough was not an easy man to live with in the 1770s.   In 1769 his rival Reynolds received a knighthood and in letters to influential friends from then on Gainsborough frequently reveals his longing for the same honour, which was never to be and this omission on the part of the establishment rankled.  He  first exhibited full length portraits of the King and Queen in London in 1781 and thereafter was virtually accepted as Court Painter but never, to his disgust, knighted.

One of his younger friends who frequently accompanied him on horseback as he rode round Bath described him as being irritable, severe and sarcastic at times, although warmly attached to people he liked.  Their route often took them through woods at Claverton and Warley which were favourite haunts of the artist.  He frequently spent the day there alone, sketching, sustained by a packet of bread and cheese carried in his pocket.

He was happiest in this natural environment of woodland, fields and streams.