Francis Basset (1757–1835) likely commissioned Thomas Gainsborough to paint a pair of portraits depicting himself and his wife,
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.
Commissioned by the sitter, 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. Sir George Donaldson [1845-1925], London; sold to William Andrews Clark [1839-1925], New York, by 1916; bequest 1926 to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.
- 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.
- The William A. Clark Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1978.
- Antiquities to Impressionism: The William A. Clark Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2001-2002, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- 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 Part I. Unpublished manuscript, n.d. (1925): 140, no. 88.
- Corcoran Gallery of Art. Illustrated Handbook of the W.A. Clark Collection. Washington, 1932: repro. 38, 47, no. 2094, as Portrait of Lord Dunstanville.
- Waterhouse, Ellis Kirkham. "Preliminary Check List of Portraits by Thomas Gainsborough." Walpole Society 33 [1948-1950] (1953): 33.
- Waterhouse, Sir Ellis. Gainsborough. London, 1958: 64, no. 219.
- Corcoran Gallery of Art. Masterpieces of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1959: 19, repro.
- 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.