A previously unknown portrait by Thomas Gainsborough surfaced in France last year, and because its sitter is likely a little-known composed from the 18th century, music scholars are abuzz. The painting, depicting a man holding a manuscript of music, first appeared in France last December, and sold at Paris auction for around £2,500 (about $3,475), per a report in the Guardian.
Gainsborough, a painter, printer, and draughtsman, was among the most important English artists of his time, making the discovery of any unknown work relatively rare. The portrait, titled British School, may have been sold for well below its worth. Comparable paintings by Gainsborough have fetched more than $1 million at auction.
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Hugh Belsey, former director of Gainsborough’s House, the museum in the artist’s birthplace of Suffolk, told the Guardian that layers of dirt, discolored varnished, and shoddy overpaint had obscured Gainsborough signature style. The work has since undergone a preservation, illuminating the artist’s brilliant use of color.
Belsey believes the subject is Czech composer and violinist Antonín Kammel, who worked in Britain from 1765 until his death in 1784. He was well-known in his day, though his influence has largely faded from memory. Kammel was a peer of Johann Christian Bach, the son of Johann Sebastian Bach, and a leading composer in London. Gainsborough’s son-in-law, the oboist and composer Johann Fischer, regularly performed with Kammel.
“Gainsborough had a great deal of interest in musicians and likened a picture to a piece of music, once writing: ‘One part of a Picture ought to be like the first part of a Tune; that you can guess what follows, and that makes the second part of the Tune, and so I’ve done,’” Belsey said.