Goya and Gainsborough: The portrait connection

Dr Xavier Bray, Chief Curator of Dulwich Picture Gallery, introduces his research project about Goya and Gainsborough, which is supported by an Art Fund Curatorial Grant.

I am delighted and extremely excited to have received an award from the Art Fund's Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grant programme. For the next seven months I will be able to put aside two days a week to spend time in London’s libraries and museum collections hunting down any possible link there may be between Britain and Spain’s leading 18th-century portrait painters: Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) and Francisco de Goya (1746-1828).

This project was inspired by the visual similarities between Dulwich Picture Gallery’s portrait of the musician Samuel Linley (1778), which Gainsborough reputedly painted in 48 minutes, and Goya’s portrait of the Spanish composer, Manuel Quijano (1815), which is in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona (see above). Both portraits are half-length portraits and set in oval frames, and both are evocative portrayals of each sitter’s artistic sensibility.

Although the visual similarities between the two artists have often been remarked upon they have never been properly explored. Goya, who was 19 years younger than Gainsborough, would have known the elder artist by reputation. My hunch is that he is very likely to have known the numerous prints that were made after Gainsborough’s portraits and widely circulated throughout Europe, some which surely made it to Madrid where Goya worked.

In order to ascertain this, my first port of call will be to the British Museum’s Prints and Drawings department to look through the many boxes of prints after Gainsborough’s portraits. I hope to determine which prints Goya might have been able to see in Madrid and demonstrate the role they might have played in his development as a portrait painter, particularly in terms of pose, gesture, facial expression and the setting of a figure in space.

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