Dorset Museum to reunite Gainsborough husband and wife portraits

February 6, 2023

A Portraits of Elizabeth and John Bragge by Thomas Gainsborough
Portraits of Elizabeth and John Bragge by Thomas Gainsborough

Dorset Museum is delighted to announce that it has taken guardianship of A Portrait of Elizabeth Bragge by Thomas Gainsborough dating to 1767.  From 14 February 2023, the painting and a companion portrait of Elizabeth’s husband John Bragge will be reunited in the Museum’s Artists’ Dorset gallery. It will be the first time the portraits have been seen together in Dorset for over a hundred years.

Elizabeth Adney (d.1783) married landowner John Bragge (1741-83) at Bath Abbey in 1762. Following her marriage, Elizabeth – the daughter of Benjamin Adney of Pymore – lived with her husband at Sadborow House, the Thorncombe estate of Bragge’s family, from 1650.

Gainsborough painted the half-length portraits in Bath in 1767. Born in 1727 in Suffolk, Gainsborough was one of the most prominent portraitists of the 18th century. He moved to the fashionable resort of Bath, an established centre for portrait painters, in 1759. He produced ambitious portraits of prominent sitters, whilst perfecting a commercial head and shoulders format for less wealthy clients. The portraits of the Bragges would likely have been completed by Gainsborough in a matter of days. Family papers show that he was paid 40 guineas for painting the pair, the going rate for portraits of the period before the artist moved to London in 1774.

The oil on canvas feigned oval portrait is approximately 30 by 25 inches and is displayed in a 19th-century richly carved and pierced gilt Louis XIV style frame. It shows Elizabeth wearing a white dress with pink ribbons and a lace bonnet with pink bows.

The portraits were passed down through the Bragge family until 1909 when they were sold at auction, both entering ownership in the USA. In 1983, Dorset Museum was able to purchase the portrait of John Bragge. But Elizabeth’s portrait remained in private ownership. In 2022, the portrait was bequeathed by Mrs. Delia Brinton to Charities Aid Foundation America (CAF America), who loaned the portrait to the Dorset Museum for display over a period of three years.

The portrait of Elizabeth will be displayed alongside that of her husband in the Museum’s Artists’ Dorset gallery. It will join an existing display of Georgian portraits, including paintings of the Rackett family by George Romney, Thomas Coombes aged 108 by William Hogarth, and a portrait of Rebecca Steward by Dorset-born portraitist Thomas Beach.

Elizabeth Selby, Interim Director said, ‘We are thrilled to have taken guardianship of this important painting by Thomas Gainsborough, and delighted to reunite it with its companion piece in the Museum’s Artists’ Dorset gallery. It is wonderful to see the husband and wife portraits together again as we celebrate St Valentine. They are part of an important collection of Georgian portraits held by the Museum, through which the society of 18th century Dorset can be better understood. We are grateful to CAF America for their work in facilitating the transfer and transportation of the artwork from the USA to Dorset.’

CAF America said, ‘We are grateful for the generous donation of this historic portrait to CAF America, and we are thrilled to partner with the Dorset Museum to reunite these beautiful pieces. This story perfectly represents why CAF America accepts donations of complex assets, as they enable us to accomplish our charitable mission and that of our donors in many creative ways beyond simple cash donations.’

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