John Plampin is portrayed here aged about 25. The portrait was probably painted around five years before he inherited Chadacre Hall and the manor of Shimpling, Suffolk, in 1757. Gainsborough shows Plampin on Plampin land. The church tower in the background, though brushed in with only a few touches of near-transparent grey paint, is recognisable as All Saints, Lawshall, about two miles from Chadacre Hall.
Plampin is seated on the ground, his hand tucked fashionably into his waistcoat, at ease in the land he owns. His legs are splayed in an unusual fashion, which is echoed by the limbs, or branches of the tree, creating a composition with radiating spokes like a wheel. The landscape is included in the portrait to reinforce Plampin’s authority and privilege as a member of the British landed gentry, which is presented as part of the ‘natural’ order.
John Plampin is portrayed here aged about 25. He was born in Shimpling, near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, the eldest son of John Plampin and his wife Ann. The portrait was probably painted about five years before John inherited the manor of Shimpling and Chadacre Hall from his father in 1757.
Gainsborough shows Plampin on Plampin land. The church tower in the background, though brushed in with only a few touches of near-transparent grey paint, is recognisable as All Saints, Lawshall, about two miles from Chadacre Hall.
Plampin went to Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1746 but appears to have left without taking a degree. After succeeding to the Chadacre estate he cultivated his lands and lived the life of a country gentleman. He married Elizabeth Frances Hervey-Aston, granddaughter of the 1st Earl of Bristol, whose home, Ickworth, was the nearest great house to Chadacre.
He is fashionably dressed in a deep blue frock-coat trimmed with gold braid, a white satin waistcoat with gold-tasselled frogging, black breeches and a tricorn hat with a sharp front pinch, as worn by those with military and sporting interests. His square-buckled flat black leather shoes are suitable for a country walk. Plampin is accompanied by a small gun-dog, probably a pointer cross. Gainsborough reused the dog’s pose in other Suffolk portraits of the 1750s.
Plampin’s hand is tucked into his waistcoat, following the rules in a contemporary book of deportment that set out how an elegant man should carry himself. He is seated on a bank with his legs splayed, which is an unusually relaxed position for a portrait, and gives the sense that this confident young man sits as he pleases. The limbs, or branches, of the tree mirror the position of Plampin’s legs, creating a composition with radiating spokes like a wheel. Plampin is portrayed at ease in the land that he owns. Indeed he is so at ease in nature that he is actually sitting on the ground. Nature is used in the portrait to reinforce Plampin’s authority and privilege as a member of the British landed gentry, which is presented as part of the ‘natural’ order.
Plampin’s pose may derive from the French painter Watteau’s portrait of Antoine de la Rocque, of about 1719, which depicts a war veteran sitting under a tree with his wounded leg stretched out before him. Artists in England could have known de la Rocque’s pose through a widely circulated engraving of about 1734. Hogarth adapted the pose for the drunken rake with his leg up on the table in his series of engravings The Rake’s Progress, and Gainsborough’s friend and teacher, Francis Hayman, used it for several paintings including his double portrait of David Garrick and William Windham (National Portrait Gallery, London), of about 1745. An earlier example of the pose, which may have been in Gainsborough’s mind, is the piping shepherd in Rubens’s Pastoral Landscape with a Rainbow (State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg). Rubens’s shepherd, like Gainsborough’s fashionably dressed Plampin, is free to enjoy the beauty of nature as he stretches out beneath a spreading tree.
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