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Thomas Linley the younger

In a simple oval framing device, the English portraitist Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88), has captured the open and direct gaze of Thomas Linley the younger (1756–78). Linley’s formal attire of a plain red coat provides a bold contrast to the muted backdrop. The loose strokes of white paint which render the lace and wraps of his cravat, lead the eye up his neck to his youthful face. Delicate strokes give an impression of Thomas’s powdered hair, swept back and caught at his neck with a blue ribbon, which can just be glimpsed. This portrait was probably painted in Bath, before both artist and sitter moved to London in 1774.

The gentle gaze belies an intelligent and thoughtful character. The eldest son of the musician Thomas Linley the Elder (1733–95), the young Thomas was a composer and violinist and one of the most talented members of the musical Linley family. At the time of his portrait, aged sixteen, he had recently returned to England from studying the violin with the Italian composer and violinist Pietro Nardini (1722–93) in Florence, under the patronage of Peregrine Bertie, 3rd Duke of Ancaster (1714–78), and had met and befriended the Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–91) while in Italy. Known as ‘Il Tommasino’, Thomas was considered one of the finest violin players in Europe in his day and regularly performed at his father’s concerts and collaborated with the playwright Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan (1751–1816) on scores for his plays. In 1778, aged twenty-two, Thomas drowned while trying to swim ashore after a boating accident at Grimsthorpe Castle, tragically cutting short a career as the “English Mozart”.

Currently on display

Thomas Gainsborough
Gallery 10
75.9 x 63.5 cm
Oil on canvas
William Linley Bequest, 1835
Accession number
This picture was adopted by The Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery, 2012