Last week, the Cincinnati Art Museum opened their special exhibition, "Gainsborough and the Modern Woman." This show centered around the restoration of a Gainsborough painting of Ann Ford with her viola da gamba in the background and an English guitar on her lap. Benedict Leca, the curator who headed up this show, asked Catacoustic to share music for their opening. What an exciting project! Austin Clark of Louisville came to town to play harpsichord with me. For the Art Museum performance, we played music of Abel and John Christian Bach (the son of the famous J.S. Bach). We had a concert open to the public on Saturday, where we had a video display of Gainsborough paintings during our performance. We also shared music of Linley, Abel, JC Bach, and Graziani for 2 viols, soprano, harpsichord, and Baroque violin. It was a lovely evening.
Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) is one of my favorite painters and is undoubtedly one of the best portraitists who ever lived. His painting of Ann Ford at the Cincinnati Art Museum which is being unveiled this week, newly restored, is a tourist attraction for lovers of Gainsborough and the viola da gamba. Ms. Ford was a member of the aristocracy and went against the cultural norm to arrange public concerts for herself (not appropriate for a lady). Her father had her arrested twice for this! Gainsborough captures her boldness and strength of will in this painting.
Gainsborough himself was a musician and played the viola da gamba and harpsichord. He loved music possibly more than painting and was good friends with Abel, Linley, the lute player/composer Straube, and J.C. Bach. Gainsborough’s daughter wrote that he was “much led into the company of musicians, with whom he often exceeded the bounds of intemperance… being occasionally unable to work for a week afterwards.” He had a deep friendship with Abel. Upon Abel’s death, the painter wrote:
Poor Abel died about one o’clock today, without pain, after three day’s sleep… We love a genius for what he leaves and mourn him for what he takes away. If Abel was not so great a man as Handel it was because caprice had ruined music before he ever took up his pen. For my part I shall never cease looking up to heaven – the little while I have to stay behind – in hopes of getting one more glance of the man I loved from the moment I heard him touch the string.
Gainsborough much preferred painting landscapes and making music to painting portraits. He wrote “I’m sick of Portraits and wish very much to take my Viol da Gam [sic] and walk off to some sweet Village where I can paint Landskips [landscapes] and enjoy the End of life in quietness and ease.”
If you would like to see the exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum, it is open from now through January 2. See more information at cincinnatiartmuseum.org.