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Overview

Francis Basset (1757–1835) likely commissioned Thomas Gainsborough to paint a pair of portraits depicting himself and his wife, Frances Susanna Coxe (c. 1760–1823), soon after he purchased their new home in 1785. The paintings adorned the stately Radnor House, built in 1673 on the banks of the River Thames in Twickenham, which Basset owned until 1793. A native of Cornwall, the southwest tip of England, Basset married Bath-born Frances in 1780, one year after he was made a baronet for defending the English coast against French and Spanish fleets. By the time the couple sat for Gainsborough, Basset had been representing his native Cornwall in Parliament for five years. He balanced his political ambitions with business concerns, playing an instrumental role in the development of railroads essential to Cornwall’s maritime and mining industries.

Gainsborough was the favorite English society portrait painter of his era. Like other British portraitists succeeding Anthony Van Dyck, the leading English court painter of the early 18th century, Gainsborough was strongly influenced by the Flemish master’s elegant yet relaxed likenesses. The pair of portraits of the Bassets exemplifies Gainsborough’s mature style, in which he developed a new, romantic approach to the genre. He rendered his subjects with loose, animated brushwork and enveloped them in wild landscape settings painted in a similarly impressionistic style. In this instance, Gainsborough connects the Bassets—born as commoners and therefore newcomers to wealth and society—directly with the natural world so important to their country’s landed aristocracy.

In contrast to the portrait of his wife, in which Frances Susanna’s figure is integrated into the wooded background, and in keeping with his political and business ambitions, Francis is dressed in contemporary style and rendered more distinct from his landscape background.

Provenance

Commissioned by the sitter,[1] and probably remained in his family, descending through the owners of Tehidy, the family estate near Camborne, Cornwall, to A.F. Basset; sold 1907 to (Asher Wertheimer, London). (Thos. Agnew and Sons, London), in 1908.[2] Sir George Donaldson [1845-1925], London; sold to William Andrews Clark [1839-1925], New York, by 1916;[3] bequest 1926 to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.

Exhibition History
1959
Loan Exhibition. Masterpieces of the Corcoran Gallery of Art: A Benefit Exhibition in Honor of the Gallery's Centenary, Wildenstein, New York, 1959, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
1978
The William A. Clark Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1978.
2001
Antiquities to Impressionism: The William A. Clark Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2001-2002, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
Bibliography
1925
Carroll, Dana H. Catalogue of Objects of Fine Art and Other Properties at the Home of William Andrews Clark, 962 Fifth Avenue. Part I. Unpublished manuscript, n.d. (1925): 140, no. 88.
1932
Corcoran Gallery of Art. Illustrated Handbook of the W.A. Clark Collection. Washington, 1932: repro. 38, 47, no. 2094, as Portrait of Lord Dunstanville.
1953
Waterhouse, Ellis Kirkham. "Preliminary Check List of Portraits by Thomas Gainsborough." Walpole Society 33 [1948-1950] (1953): 33.
1958
Waterhouse, Sir Ellis. Gainsborough. London, 1958: 64, no. 219.
1959
Corcoran Gallery of Art. Masterpieces of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1959: 19, repro.
2001
Sánchez-Jáuregui, Maria Dolores. "Two portraits of Francis Basset by Pompeo Batoni in Madrid." The Burlington Magazine 143, no. 1180 (July 2001): 425, fig. 20.
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