Friday 27 August 2010

A Bath Front Door

Number 17 The Circus.

Thomas Gainsborough lived here.

Mr and Mrs Andrews. Although this portrait was not painted during Gainsborough's time in Bath it does show that perhaps, he was a landscape artist at heart.

Gainsborough's two daughters, Mary and Margaret. They skipped up to that front door.

Mrs Philip Thickness painted in Gainsborough's Bath studio.

Ignatius Sancho painted in Bath in 1760. This one is obviously unusual because it shows a slave or perhaps a freedman.His master thought so highly of Ignatius, he payed for his portrait to be painted. Much of 18th century wealth was derived from the sugar plantations and hence, slavery. Many of the wealthy of Bath would have been slave owners and they would have had black servants.

The Byam family painted in Bath in 1762. Their wealth came from the sugar plantations.


This front door is number 17, The Circus, Bath. Approaching, The Circus, are three roads, Gay Street from the south, where Jane Austen lived for a short while, Bennet Street from the North East, which leads to The Upper Assembly Rooms and Brock Street to the North West which leads to the Royal Crescent. These three roads enter The Circus, dividing this circular road exactly into thirds. Number 17 is in the northern third and is near the entrance to Bennett Street.

It’s situation could not be closer to and was indeed part of the elite residences of Bath in the 18th century. It is also within a minutes walk of The Upper Assembly Rooms where the bright young things of the 18th century and some not so young, danced, gambled, flirted, paraded and generally made a show of themselves. These beautiful young things had time on their hands and many had money to spend.

The resident of number 17 The Circus between 1759 and 1768 was there to take advantage of this situation. He was Thomas Gainsborough an up and coming portrait artist.

Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk in May 1727 and he was the son of a cloth merchant.He had a natural talent for drawing and painting and when he was 13 years old he was sent to London to study drawing and etching under the French engraver Hubert Gravelot. In London, Gainsborough, met William Hogarth and Francis Hayman.

In 1746 he married Margaret Burr   and around 1749 Gainsborough returned to Suffolk where he lived for the next ten years.. Here he painted the portraits of the local, wealthy farm owners and gentry. He was able to make a good living. They  had two daughters  Mary (1750-1826) and Margaret (1752- 1820). However Thomas Gainsborough was ambitious. 

In 1759 he moved to number 17 The Circus in Bath. He was attracted by the possibilities of expensive commissions that the society of Bath could offer.
His sitters were authors, actors and members of high society. In 1768 he was elected a founder member of the Royal Academy.

In 1774 he moved to London where he set up a studio in Pall Mall. In 1780 he was commissioned to paint the portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte and he became a royal favourite causing a rivalry between himself and Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Thomas Gainsborough always claimed that he preferred painting landscapes but the portraits were far more lucrative. In one of his most famous paintings , Mr and Mrs Andrews, he has caught this rich couple displaying their relaxed attitude and sense of elite power and authority, but he has pushed them over to the left of the picture and behind and to the right of them he has depicted the beautiful landscape and vast acres they owned and ruled over. I am sure the couple were very happy with the display of their wealth, authority and property.

Returning to the picture of the front door in, The Circus. On those stone flags Thomas Gainsborough, his wife and two daughters undoubtedly trod but think of the fine and beautiful ladies and elegant gentlemen, dripping in wealth and finery, who stepped that way too. The hand on the doorknocker and the sedate deportment as they crossed the threshold.


  1. Don't you just love Mrs. Andrews's panniers? It's like wearing a portable picnic table. Very interesting article. Thanks.

  2. Interesting. I liked seeing the picture of Ignatius - it's so rare to see portraits of servants and especially slaves, yet they tell so much about the period.

  3. I didn't know Gainsborough lived there. I could have walked passed his door that day going to the Assembly Rooms. I learned about the near miss of the chandeliers on him only after coming home and reading the Guidebook I bought there. Thanks for all these wonderful info and beautiful photos of Bath in your other posts.

    Yes, about the Pump Room pic on my blog... I was there Aug. 24 during lunch time. Could you have been around at the same time?