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Thomas Gainsborough, Margaret Gainsborough holding a Theorbo

Key facts
Full title Portrait of Margaret Gainsborough holding a Theorbo
Artist Thomas Gainsborough
Artist dates 1727 - 1788
Date made about 1777
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 90.2 × 69.9 cm
Acquisition credit Accepted in lieu of Inheritance Tax by HM Government from the estate of George Pinto and allocated to the National Gallery, 2019
Inventory number NG6687
Location Room 35
Image copyright Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London
Collection Main Collection
Margaret Gainsborough holding a Theorbo
Thomas Gainsborough

This unfinished portrait of Thomas Gainsborough’s youngest daughter, Margaret (1751–1820), playing a theorbo (a kind of lute) unites two particularly personal aspects of the artist’s life and career: his deep affection for his family and friends, and their shared passion for music.

The Gainsborough family were keen amateur musicians, and this portrait was once thought to be of the artist’s elder daughter Mary, who played the harpsichord, but is now identified as his youngest daughter, Margaret, the more musical member of the family. Margaret never married but spent much of her adult life caring for Mary who suffered from mental illness. Margaret is here shown in her mid-twenties, fashionably dressed and coiffed. She plucks the strings of her instrument while looking out to her right, perhaps making music in harmony with another member of her family. In its vigorous bravura manner, and its intimacy, the portrait demonstrates a forward-looking, almost modern, aspect to Gainsborough’s late portraiture.

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