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Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)
The Byam Family
circa 1762
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This is a family portrait showing George Byam, his wife Louisa and their daughter Selina. The figures are supposedly out walking: the husband gesturing with his hat towards the landscape, inviting his wife to share in his contemplation of their surroundings. The family are in elaborate costume: the husband wears a red coat with golden lace and buttons, while the wife is dressed in pale blue silks.

Do you think the family were painted directly in the landscape or in the studio? Why?
Byam and his wife link arms and gaze forwards. The only person in the painting who looks straight out at the viewer is the child, inviting us into the painting and the family unit.
What do you think the couple's relationship is to the landscape around them?
George and Louisa Byam asked Gainsborough to repaint part of this marriage portrait after its completion. Recent restoration has revealed that their daughter was added at a later point and that the dress and hair of the wife were updated to follow more recent fashions.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) was born in Suffolk, but trained in London where he met the leading craftsmen of the day, becoming aware of continental artistic trends without going abroad himself. Between 1748 and 1759 he set up a successful portrait practice in his native Suffolk, producing images of the local gentry. He also sketched and painted landscapes for his own amusement throughout his life; this interest can be seen most vividly in the backgrounds for some of his portraits.

In 1759 he moved to the fashionable spa of Bath and became an overnight success, enabling him to demand ever-higher prices for his works. He charged £20 for a quarter-length portrait, £40 for a half-length and £60 for a full-length.

How much do you think the Byam family portrait might have cost?
Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)  The Byam Family  circa 1762
Materials and technique: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 235 x 244.5 cm
Holburne Museum: on long term loan to the Holburne Museum of Art and reproduced for educational use by kind permission of the Andrew Brownsword Arts Foundation
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