Elizabeth and Mary Linley
The closest of companions, this double portrait of Elizabeth and Mary Linley is the only known painting depicting the pair of well-known musical sisters together. Elizabeth (1754-1792), the eldest, wears a pale blue dress and gazes into the distance, with her hands resting on a guitar. Mary (1758-1787), dressed in golden brown, looks directly at the viewer while holding a score sheet on her lap.
The Linley family were a famous musical family, who became known as ‘The Nest of the Nightingales’. Elizabeth was known for her voice and beauty, becoming one of the most highly sought after singers of oratorios after her debut in 1767. Mary made her public debut as an actress in 1769 and then followed in her sister’s footsteps as a singer of oratorios. Both sisters were forbidden to sing in public once married, and Elizabeth therefore retired at eighteen and Mary at twenty-two.
The British painter Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) moved to Bath in 1759 and became good friends with the Linleys. From the late 1760s until 1789, he made a series of portraits of the family, including this work painted between early 1771 and March 1772. In 1785 upon the request of the Linley family, he re-touched the painting in order to depict the fashion-conscious sitters in the up-to-date clothing of the 1780s.