When the portrait was acquired in 1948 it was described as an unidentified naval officer by Gainsborough. It was subsequently re-attributed to Gainsborough Dupont, Gainsborough’s nephew, studio assistant and painter in his own right. In 2005 the officer was identified as Charles Phipps, the fourth son of Constantine Phipps and brother of Constantine John Phipps, Baron Mulgrave, a naval officer and politician.
It was originally painted on paper board (made of compressed sheets of good quality paper). Later, perhaps in the early twentieth century, this was stuck onto a canvas stretcher using water-based glue. This process caused considerable damage to the board and to the paint surface. Probably at this point much of the background paint was scraped off, and the whole portrait heavily overpainted to create a more acceptable image. In 2006 the overpaint was removed revealing a portrait more like Gainsborough than Dupont, closely relating in both pose and scale to existing portraits of Phipps by Gainsborough. What is interesting is that in this ‘sketch’ or ‘study’, Phipps appears younger and less care worn than in the completed portraits, although for some reason the flesh tone has a pronounced raw quality. One might speculate that it may have been painted when Phipps became a captain in 1776.
Where to see this painting?
National Maritime Museum
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