A wonderfully intimate letter from Gainsborough to his friend and attorney, James Unwin, in which he describes his poor state of health (“…I have so many returns of my Nervous complaint in the back part of my Head that I almost despair of getting the better of it: I am really a Weather Cock…”), describes his new accommodation in Bath, including his Painting Room and display area, outlining his daily routine, discussing his progress on portraits of Mrs Saumarez and Mrs Unwin and his use of a jackass in a painting
"…I have taken a House about three quarters of a Mile in the Lansdown Road. ‘tis sweetly situated and I have every convenience I could wish for. I pay 30 pounds per Year; and so let off all my House in the Smoake except my Painting Room and best parlour to show Pictures in. Am I right to ease myself of as much Painting work as the Lodgings will bring in…I fully intend to mention something about Mrs. Unwin’s Picture in my next. I had a Letter with nobody’s Name to it, desiring his Wife’s picture might be finish’d and sent as soon as possible: sure it could not be honest Saumarez. I think when I recollect the way the that he wears his Hat in, it may possibly come from him…Don’t you think a Jackass three quarters asleep upon the ridge of a Bank undermind and mouldring away is very expressive of the happiness of not seeing danger?..."
This letter has been lost since its appearance in Maggs Brothers’ catalogue no.608 (1935), (340, plate IV). Apart from the text taken from the plate, this letter was not used in the publication in The Letters of Thomas Gainsborough, ed John Hayes (New Haven, 2001), no.12. It is an important letter, one of the longest to appear at auction in recent years. Gainsborough’s letters are rare, the overwhelming majority of the hundred or so long letters in public institutions.
Gainsborough discusses two paintings of Mrs Unwin (finished in 1771, now in a private collection) and the portrait of Mrs Saumarez which may not have been completed or is lost. In addition he mentions his technique of using animals in his paintings, in this case as ass and gives his ideas on the symbolism of the beast. James Unwin (1717-1776) was Gainsborough’s attorney and banker. Gainsborough painted a fine portrait of him in the 1750s.
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