New British Art Journal

August 11 2011

Image of New British Art Journal

Picture: Telegraph

Plop onto my desk comes the new British Art Journal, just in time to make it into my holiday reading bag. This looks to be an excellent issue, it even - gasp - has some new features. As ever, there's a zippy editorial from Robin Simon. He makes a plea for UK museums to make all their images free for use, as Yale has done. He is of course right, as I have said before

Included in this issue are the following:

  • Katherine Hudson on Edward Burra
  • AP Duffy on Paul Nash
  • Helen Wyld on Paul Sandby
  • Alan Davidson on the artist and engraver Thomas Hardy
  • Stephen Conrad on Gainsborough's first Self-portrait
  • Thomas Tuoby on aspects of British art in Barodo, India
  • Juliet McMaster on a possible new watercolour by Samuel Palmer
The article on the newly discovered 'Gainsborough Self-portrait' (detail, above), penned by its owner Stephen Conrad, is engaging. The picture surfaced at an auction in 2005, and has not previously been known. It is inscribed on the back 'Gainsboro'.

Conrad makes a concerted and believable attempt to prove that his picture is indeed by the young 'Tom', and makes a number of points: we know Gainsborough painted portrait 'heads' as a child; the inscription is similar to the manner in which Gainsborough may have written his name when young; there could be a resemblance to Gainsborough at about ten; the costume is right for a picture of the 1730s/40s; the paint is appropriate for the period; and there may be some elements similar to Gainsborough's later technique.

So - is it by Gainsborough? Ultimately, it will always be one of those 'leap of faith' pictures. There is no really compelling evidence that it is by Tom, and of Tom. Making connoisseurial judgements on juvenalia is next to impossible. One just has to ask 'could it be by Gainsborough?' And happily there is enough evidence to suggest that it could be... 

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