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Thomas Linley the elder

With a subdued palette of light tones, English portrait painter Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88) presents the composer and singing master, Thomas Linley the elder (1733–95), against a dark backdrop, set within an oval device resembling a window or frame. The contrast of light and dark give the figure a commanding presence, while the averted gaze perhaps reflects a personality that was sometimes described as stern and severe. Linley was the father of eight musical children. The family became known as ‘The Nest of Nightingales’ for their performances in a series of concerts organised by their father at the Assembly Rooms in Bath. He was also involved with the London theatre scene and in 1776 became part-owner and musical director of the Drury Lane Theatre. Here, Gainsborough shows Linley holding a sheet of music inscribed ELEGY, from his Elegies for Three Voices, published in 1770.

By the time this portrait was painted, Gainsborough had established himself as the leading society portrait painter, launching his career in Bath after developing his practice painting conversation pieces of the local gentry in his home county of Suffolk. The move to Bath was a considered step, with Gainsborough confident of his abilities to paint a good likeness which, to him, was ‘the principal beauty & intent of a portrait’. Bath offered a wealthy and well-connected clientele and it is here that he met, befriended and painted Thomas Linley the elder, along with several portraits of his children. Some of these portraits make up a group of paintings that were bequeathed to Dulwich Picture Gallery by William Linley (1771–1835), the last survivor of the family group.

Currently on display

Thomas Gainsborough
Gallery 10
76.5 x 63.5 cm
Oil on canvas
William Linley Bequest, 1835
Accession number
Adopted by the Alleyn Road Adoption Club, 1998