Art expert challenges assumption that Gainsborough painted Miss Brummell

PUBLISHED: 19:00 14 March 2017

Hugh Belsey, pictured in 2002 with his book on Gainsborough at Gainsborough House in Sudbury. Picture: MICHAEL HALL

Hugh Belsey, pictured in 2002 with his book on Gainsborough at Gainsborough House in Sudbury. Picture: MICHAEL HALL

A world renowned art expert has called into question the authenticity of one of Thomas Gainsborough’s most famous and cherished works.

The Miss Brummell painting. Picture: ENGLISH HERITAGE, KENWOOD. Miss Brummell painting. Picture: ENGLISH HERITAGE, KENWOOD.

The painting Miss Brummell, depicting a young girl in a wooded landscape holding a cat, is part of the English Heritage collection at Kenwood House in London, where it is labelled as a ‘Gainsborough’.

But Hugh Belsey, a world authority on the Suffolk artist, believes they have the wrong Gainsborough and that it was actually painted by his nephew Gainsborough Dupont.

Controversially Mr Belsey, from Bury St Edmunds, will be leaving the work out of the definitive catalogue of more than 1,000 Gainsborough portraits he is currently collating, which will be published next year.

He claims that the painting of Miss Brummell is too messy, lacks confidence and is not in Gainsborough’s style.

Thomas GainsboroughThomas Gainsborough

He said: “Of course you don’t know for certain if a picture is by someone unless you saw them paint it and it’s been in your possession ever since, but you can make some pretty good assumptions.

“If you look at enough of an artist’s work – and I’ve been all over America, Brazil, Europe and Australia looking at all the Gainsboroughs so there are hardly any in public or private collections that I haven’t seen – then you begin to understand exactly what his thought processes were.

“And it seems to me that Miss Brummell is not within those thought processes at all and that’s why I have come to this conclusion.

“I’m quite convinced it’s by Dupont who doesn’t have the subtlety of his uncle’s work at all. This is a very good Dupont but nonetheless it’s a Dupont and not a Gainsborough.”

Hugh Belsey, pictured in 2002 with his book on Gainsborough at Gainsborough House in Sudbury. Picture: MICHAEL HALLHugh Belsey, pictured in 2002 with his book on Gainsborough at Gainsborough House in Sudbury. Picture: MICHAEL HALL

Mark Bills, director at Gainsborough’s House, said the claim about Miss Brummell was bound to “cause a stir”.

He added: “Whatever Hugh has to say about Gainsborough, we take very seriously. For him to feel free to reassess some of the most established works is a good thing that will stimulate a lot of healthy debate. It will encourage people to look fresh again at his work – but it will undoubtedly cause a bit of a stir.”

An English Heritage spokesman said they were always open to hearing new findings and looked forward to seeing any new research.

• Gainsborough Dupont was born in Sudbury in 1754 and was the eldest son of Thomas Gainsborough’s sister Sarah, and her husband Philip Dupont.

He was the formal assistant and apprentice to Gainsborough. He also studied at the Royal Academy Schools, where he became a student in March 1775.

Gainsborough’s House director Mark Bills said: “We have a number of his paintings here at the house. Dupont was a good artist but not as good as his uncle and I don’t think anyone would dispute that.”

Dupont was the only assistant Gainsborough is ever known to have employed and he was strongly influenced by his uncle’s work, painting mainly portraits and landscapes.

He took over Gainsborough’s studio in 1788, and moved to Bloomsbury in 1793, following the death of Gainsborough’s widow Margaret.


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