Miss Read by Thomas Gainsborough

20 April 2011

This 1777 portrait by Thomas Gainsborough of Miss Frances Read (grand-daughter of the East End brewer, Sir Benjamin Truman and Mrs William Villebois) is coming up for auction soon at Christie’s and has been valued at £3 million. Cor blimey. Gainsborough was paid £100 by her adoring grandfather to paint this portrait and mentioned the sittings, which took place in September 1777 in a letter to his sister.

It hasn’t been seen for about seventy five years as it is privately owned so lets have a good old stare now shall we to make up for this.

Just look at her amazing powdered coiffure and the shimmering pale blue and cream silk of her gown. Gainsborough really was the master of painting the gorgeous fabrics worn by English high society ladies in the 1770s. If you ever get the chance, stand as close as you can to a Gainsborough and check out the almost abstract, Monet like feathery like strokes that he employed. It’s like magic.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that such a gorgeously dressed young lady had married into the highest echelons of society but actually she married her French dancing teacher on the 31st of October 1768, a number of years before this portrait was painted. I suspect this match was something of a disappointment to her family – perhaps that explains why the painting is known as ‘Miss Read’ when she was already a married woman with two small children?

Here’s Gainsborough’s portrait of her grandfather, Sir Benjamin, who stipulated in his will that this work should remain at the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane (where my great grandfather was a manager) for as long as any of his descendants had a connection with the company. It’s now in the Tate Gallery, London.

This is Frances’ sister, Henrietta Read (later Mrs Mears), who was also painted by Gainsborough in 1777. Unlike her sister who went for a Van Dyck extravaganza for her painting, Henrietta opted for something altogether more ethereal. This work is now in the Huntington Gallery, America.

These bright eyed little scamps are two of Mrs Villebois’ sons, John and Henry Truman-Villebois, also painted by Gainsborough in the 1780s. They were to be Sir Benjamin’s heirs to the Truman brewery business and fortune.

Imagine having Gainsborough at hand to create your family album!

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