The Goya and Gainsborough connection: Part three

In his final blog, Dr Xavier Bray from Dulwich Picture Gallery discovers a new avenue of research in his Goya/Gainsborough portrait project, which explores parallels between the artists.

A study trip to Madrid allowed me to follow up a lead found in London: a reference in the English newspaper, The World (3 February, 1787), mentioned how Boydell, the successful print publisher, had received ‘a late order from Madrid’ which ‘exceeded 1,500 pounds sterling’.

With this information in hand I visited Madrid’s National Library to go through the Gaceta de Madrid, a contemporary newspaper which contains a wealth of information, including advertisements from book and print dealers. (That was how Goya advertised the sale of his celebrated edition of etchings, Los Caprichos, later in 1799). Looking through the years between 1787 and 1790, I found out that a book dealer and publisher, Antonio Sancha (1720-1790), posted an advert on 25 January 1788 for the sale of a group of ‘English prints by Bartolozzi, Facius, Sharp, Green and others’. These are the names of the printmakers that appear in Boydell’s catalogues, some of whom I was familiar with having spent time looking at prints in the Prints and Drawings Department at the British Museum.

One of the most likely candidates during this period to have bought such prints was the Duke and Duchess of Osuna. As we saw in my last blog, their family group portrait painted by Goya in 1788 had a distinct English flavour to it (see image 1 in gallery). Although it is surprisingly close to Gainsborough’s group portrait of the Baillie Family (1784, Tate), unfortunately the coloured mezzotint I found after the painting in the British Museum is very likely to be a later reproduction and therefore not available to Goya.

Archival research at the Archivo Histórico Nacional, however, allowed me to look through the Osuna family papers, among which was an invoice signed in June 1788 by Antonio Sancha’s son Gabriel. It referred to an order of prints that the Duchess of Osuna had made earlier on 30 March 1787. Amazingly, the full list of those acquired was attached with detailed descriptions, making it possible to identify them. The majority are of English country houses, parks and gardens. There are also prints after famous paintings in aristocratic collections and paintings by contemporary artists such as Angelica Kauffman and Reynolds. Only two portrait prints are listed and although to my disappointment they were not after Gainsborough portraits, they presented me with a totally new avenue of research.

The two portraits in questions were after portraits of the British royal family by the American painter, Benjamin West (1738-1820). Listed in Spanish as ‘Charlote y la Labradora’ and ‘El Principe Octavio’, they can be identified with West’s portraits of Queen Charlotte and her Daughter (1776) and Prince Octavius as a little boy (1783), which are still in the Royal Collection. The fact that the Duchess Osuna owned these two prints by March 1787 and that Goya was in the process of painting his group portrait makes it very likely that he would have been shown these, possibly with a view of using them as a source of inspiration.

The full-length portrait of Octavius is especially relevant (images 2 and 3). Shown playfully preparing to draw a sword and wearing a suit with a broad collar, sash and a wide-brimmed straw hat, with a toy horse on the floor at his feet, he would undoubtedly have been of interest to Goya, especially when painting the Osuna boys. Indeed, Goya shows them wearing similar suits with sashes and broad collars, along with the buckled shoes. The miniature carriage held by a piece of string by one of the children in the foreground of Goya’s painting is not unlike the toy horse on the ground at Octavius’s feet. My research so far suggests that Goya was not copying specific works but rather seems to have been echoing and imitating the flavour and style of English portraiture which was so fashionable at the time and desirable to the Spanish aristocracy.

Xavier Bray's project was supported by a Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grant. Read his previous blogs:

​Goya and Gainsborough: The portrait connection

Part two: Mezzotints after Gainsborough

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