Paint me a picture

June 21, 2008 at 10:49 am (portraits and paintings) (, , )

In corresponding with Kate from Norfolk, the comment came up about a famous artist who reportedly painted the eldest Gosling son. Pity the artist died a couple years before the boy was born… (This artist, however, does have a connection to earlier family members; but that is a story for later).

So I mentioned to Kate that there is one portrait of William-Ellis I did know of, and had actually seen an online image of: Sir William Beechey’s “Master Gosling,” painted c1800 and exhibited in that year.

Beechey had a lengthy connection with the William Gosling family. An old biography (published 1907) of the artist places the Goslings in his studio, sitting for several portraits – parents and children. The diaries of Emma Austen puts her there, visiting the studio in company with them, in 1820. So where are these portraits??

According to the biography by William Roberts, “Master Gosling” was ‘the first of a number of members to sit to Beechey; the other Gosling portraits will be found in the Account Books of 1817, 1820, and 1823.’ According to those account-book pages, the Goslings paid the following:

In 1817 –
Apr. 11  Of Mrs. Gosling (as half), for a half-length of her two daughters and three-quarter of her own     105£  0s.   0d.
Aug. 8   Of Mrs. Gosling (as last payment), for the Miss Goslings, and three-quarter of Mr. W. Gosling       105£  0s.   0d.

1818 –
Apr. 21  Of Mr. Gosling (first half)   26£  5s.  0d.

1820 –
Mar. 26  Of Mrs. Gosling, for Mr. Robert Gosling (last half)   26£  5s.  0d.

1823 –
Feb. 24  Of Mrs. Gosling (as half), for Mr. Bennett Gosling   31£  10s.  0d.

A three-quarter portrait would be one not showing hands (so, head and upper torso); a half-length length – a more costly portrait – would include that much more of the body (typically, everything but the feet!); a full-length, of course, would mean head to foot – as in the portrait of Master Gosling (and was the most expensive to commission).

Therefore, all SEVEN members of the family seem to have sat!

Here is how I read the account books:  A portrait of Mrs Gosling’s two daughters must preclude her own biological daughter, Charlotte (born c1810 and still a child); so the two painted were Mary and her elder sister Elizabeth. If Mrs Gosling paid for a three-quarter portrait of herself, then the three-quarter of the Mr W. Gosling, matching hers as to size, purchased in August was of William Gosling, esq., the father. Oldest children, sons and daughters, were designated Mr or Miss. Thus the eldest son would be Mr Gosling, a younger son Mr Robert or Mr Bennett; the same for the daughters – Miss Gosling would indicate Elizabeth, Miss Mary or Miss Charlotte the younger sisters.

(When the eldest sister married, however, the next eldest took her title. There is an amusing little anecdote about Maria Smith, the baby of the Smith of Suttons family, who obviously had taken umbrage at her sister for writing and addressing the letter MARIA SMITH rather than the now correct MISS SMITH; these little courtesies mattered!!)

It would seem that William-Ellis paid for his own (it is the only one designated ‘of Mr Gosling’).

It is interesting that all three of the boys get portraits of their own; but the two girls share one together. Yet, in this instance, it seems appropriate – and here’s why. In her diaries (and Mary has left a travel diary and seven diaries after her marriage) she never once refers to her sister Elizabeth by name, always she is ‘my sister’. Speaks volumes about the close ties these two shared, doesn’t it?

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