L2001.1: The Byam Family
View additional and larger photos
© The Holburne Museum of Art, Bath
|Title||The Byam Family|
|Additional titles||George Byam with his wife Louisa and their daughter Selina
Mr and Mrs George Byam and their eldest daughter Selina
|Object type||In category: Pictures » Painting|
|Date||Between 1762 and 1766|
Gainsborough, Thomas (English painter and draftsman, 1727-1788) (known) - Artist(s)
|Place of origin||Europe » Northern Europe » British Isles » Great Britain » England » Bath|
271.2 cm height frame
263.0 cm width frame
10.5 cm depth frame
244.5 cm height canvas
235.0 cm width canvas
4.5 cm depth canvas
238.5 cm height sight
229.7 cm width sight
|Materials & techniques||
Pictures: Medium » Paint » Oil paint
Pictures: Support » Canvas
|Description||Oil portrait of a husband and wife set in parkland landscape. Evening landscape to the left, with trees lit from the left and a stream meandering towards the foreground from a distant cottage. The couple are standing looking to the left at the view in front of them with a stone gatepost or column behind them. The lady's right hand is placed in her husband's left arm, and the gentleman's right arm is outstretched, holding a tricorn hat, and gesturing towards the distant landscape. He wears a brown suit, scarlet waistcoat with broad gold trim, white stockings, black buckled shoes, hair (possibly wig) powdered and dressed in continental style with queue. The lady wears an informal gown of blue silk, the sleeves, petticoat, and bodice trimmed with ruched furbelows of the same material. Triple sleeve ruffles of lace, with a collar of matching lace and blue ribbon. White shoes with buckles, blue mother-of-pearl earrings bordered with gold filigree. Her hair is unpowdered, dressed moderately high. Her left hand holds the right hand of a little girl wearing a white muslin frock with light pink sash and red shoes. The child wears a black lace mantle over her head, lined with white satin. In a carved and gilded wooden frame in four pieces secured with iron bolts.|
|Marks and inscriptions||
George Byam was born in Antigua, the largest of the Leeward Islands in the West Indies. He was the eldest son of George Byam (170434) and Henrietta-Maria, the daughter of Colonel John Frye of Antigua. He was baptised in St John’s Church on 31 May 1734. The Byam family had played a key role on the Island ever since the seventeenth century, when a Lieutenant-General William Byam (162270) a displaced Royalist, settled there shortly before his death. The profitability of the sugar plantations quickly made the islands attractive to French raiders. Although Antigua was partitioned by England in 1632, in 1666 the French briefly captured it. The 1750s saw further antagonism from the French, and a series of skirmishes turned to war in 1758. Peace only returned with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 10 February 1763. At that time, the Byam family were amongst the wealthiest planters on the island, holding 366 acres in St John’s Parish, worked by 132 slaves.
It is unlikely that George Byam left Antigua much before the outbreak of war in 1758; he probably married Louisa Bathurst very soon after he arrived in England. Louisa was the eighth daughter of Peter Bathurst (16871748) by his second wife, Lady Selina Shirley (died 1777), daughter of Robert, 1st Earl Ferrers. Peter Bathurst, M.P., rebuilt Clarendon Park near Salisbury in Wiltshire. His elder brother was Allen, 1st Lord Bathurst who had built Cirencester Park and improved the landscape with the help of Alexander Pope. His younger brother, Benjamin Bathurst (?16911767) of Lydney, Gloucestershire, may have been the member of the family to suggest that George Byam approached Gainsborough for his portrait, as he commissioned the artist to paint two of his children. In marrying Louisa Bathurst, George Byam married into a family of influence.
In the picture, George Byam gestures towards the landscape with an outstretched right arm. The couple stand before dense woodland that cleverly conceals the join in the canvas necessary in such a large, square-formatted painting. A portrait of this scale, consisting of more than one figure, would have exercised Gainsborough’s creativity. Unfortunately, no preparatory drawings exist for the canvas, but the artist’s adjustments in the composition can be seen in X-ray photographs taken during recent conservation treatment. The position of Mr Byam’s hat has been adjusted so as to better link the distant landscape with the foreground of the composition. The dense foliage, originally extended to the left, however, Gainsborough later expanded the sky in order to take up more of the canvas. Mr Byam’s legs were moved to the left, and the third figure, the couple’s eldest daughter Selina, was added as an afterthought, a detail which is confirmed in the X-ray showing that Mrs Byam’s dress extends beneath the figure of the little girl. George Byam wears a red-brown suit with a scarlet waistcoat generously trimmed with gold lace. He holds his tricorn hat in his right hand (the correct etiquette) and slips his left hand into his waistcoat which indicates, in Vertue’s words, “persons of quality and worth”, a pose that was both “agreeable and without affection” and thoroughly English. Louisa Byam wears a plover’s egg-blue open gown with matching petticoat with the train or saque held over her arms. White sleeve ruffles fall from her elbows. The stomacher is decorated with pleated ribbons arranged in cusps, and the petticoat has matching scalloped furbelows. She wears a necklet in the same blue ruched silk and white lace. The effect is soft, rococo and very decorative. With her left hand, she holds her eldest daughter’s hand. The little girl wears a muslin robe and has playfully arranged over her head what is probably her mother’s lace cape lined with silk. Selina looks out at the beholder and lightens the formality of the composition.
In 1999-2000, the painting was thoroughly examined and conserved. The technical examination has revealed that the painting was subject of many more changes than was originally thought. In the first version of the painting, Mrs Byam had worn her hair closer to her head, she was wearing a pink dress with black silk bracelets and a black choker, and her husband sported a blue waistcoat; all features indicate an earlier date. Therefore, it seems likely that the portrait was painted to commemorate the couple’s marriage shortly after 1760. In the repainted version, the Byams not only wanted to include their daughter, but they also wanted to ensure that their own appearance reflected current fashion. This helps to explain the stiffness of pose adopted by Mr and Mrs Byam.
The portrait was still in Gainsborough’s studio in April 1766, when the Rev. John Penrose, reported that his wife and daughter had visited an artist’s studio. Although neither the studio’s location nor artist name was identified in the letter, the pair undoubtedly saw the portrait in the Abbey Churchyard, as their lodgings in Abbey Green were only a short walk away. Friday 18 April 1766:
Your Mamma and Fanny have both been to see the Pictures, and are much pleased with them. Amongst the rest is a fine Portrait of a father, mother and child: the finest Portrait, she ever saw, and she liked it the better for the child’s being very like little Molly.
Molly was Penrose’s fourth daughter, born in 1749, somewhat older than Selina Byam. The Rev. John Penrose adds in a postscript:
The Picture mentioned in the preceding Page cost 120£ drawing the Gentleman and Lady only. What the child’s Picture cost, I can’t tell. But the Limner’s Price is, for a Quarter Piece 20; for a Half Piece, 40; for a whole Length, 60. This quotation reinforces the conclusion that young Selina’s portrait was added later.
In the early 1770s George Byam travelled to Antigua, leaving his family in England. He died on the island quite suddenly on 7 November 1779, and was buried at St George’s church, about eight miles west of St John’s. Louisa Byam may have moved to Potterne near Devizes soon afterwards, to be midway between Clarendon and Cirencester. She died there in May 1779 and was buried in St Mary’s Church. Selina Byam (1760-1846) had three sisters and a brother named George who died prematurely in 1774. Upon the death of her mother in 1779, she was left an orphan and moved to her cousin’s house, Clarendon Park, where she continued her education. In 1782 Selina married The Rev. William Hony (died 1795), rector of St Martin’s, Liskeard in Cornwall. In her long widowhood, Selina Hony moved to Taunton, making long visits to Clarendon Park. Selina Hony had thirteen children, seven of whom reached adulthood. The youngest son, William (1788-1875), Vicar of Baverstock in Wiltshire and Archdeacon of Sarum inherited the family portrait. Shortly after his death it was exhibited in the Royal Academy Winter Exhibition, described simply as “A Family Group”.
Notes adapted from Hugh Belsey Love's Prospect, exhibition catalogue, The Holburne Museum of Art, Bath, 2001, Chapter 2.
For accounts of Gainsborough's work during the early to mid 1760s, his studio practice and the creation of the Byam portrait, see:
Hugh Belsey Love's Prospect, exhibition catalogue, The Holburne Museum of Art, Bath, 2001 (Chapter 2 and catalogue);
Susan Sloman Pickpocketing the Rich: Portrait Painting in Bath 1720-1800, exhibition catalogue, the Holburne Museum of Art, Bath, 2002 (Introductory essay and Catalogue entries on Gainsborough)
Sloman, "Gainsborough and the lodging-house way" in Gainsborough's House Society Annual Report 1991-92, 1992, pp. 23-44;
Sloman, "Artists' Picture Rooms in Eighteenth-Century Bath", in Bath History, VI, 1996, p. 139;
Susan Sloman Gainsborough in Bath, London, 2002
For a discussion of a costume very like Louisa Byam's, see Ribeiro, Aileen, Gainsborough's Countess Howe: the artist's use of dress, in The Earl and Countess Howe by Gainsborough: a Bicentenary Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, the Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, 1988
Amina Wright Pictures of Innocence: Portraits of Children from Hogarth to Lawrence, exhibition catalogue, the Holburne Museum of Art, Bath, 2005, cat. 17.
Walter Armstrong Gainsborough and his place in English Art, London, 1898, p. 195
Walter Armstrong Gainsborough and his place in English Art, 2nd edition 1904, p. 265
R.R Tatlock. “The Byam Family by Thomas Gainsborough”, in Apollo, vol. XXI, February 1935, pp. 72-5, pl. 82
E. K Waterhouse. “Preliminary Checklist of Portraits by Thomas Gainsborough”, in Walpole Society, XXXIII, 1953, p.16
E.K. Waterhouse Gainsborough, London, 1958, no.108, plate 82
Simon Brett “The Byam Family by Thomas Gainsborough”, in The Marlburian, Michaelmas Term, 1971, pp. 20-8
John Hayes Gainsborough, London, 1975, p. 212, plates 62, 68
Hugh Belsey Love's Prospect, exhibition catalogue, The Holburne Museum of Art, Bath, 2001
Susan Sloman Pickpocketing the Rich: Portrait Painting in Bath 1720-1800, exhibition catalogue, the Holburne Museum of Art, Bath, 2002, cat. 26
Susan Sloman Gainsborough in Bath, London, 2002, pl. 65
Martin Postle Thomas Gainsborough, London, 2002
Art and Culture in Georgian Bath 1714-1830
Art and Culture in Georgian Bath 1714-1830 » Art » The Portrait Business
Art and Culture in Georgian Bath 1714-1830 » Art » Gainsborough
Art and Culture in Georgian Bath 1714-1830 » Leisure » Shopping & Fashion
|Method of acquisition||Loan|
|Provenance||By descent to Selina Byam, who married The Rev. William Hony (c. 1799) of Liskeard, Cornwall; by descent to their son Archdeacon William Hony (1788-1875); by descent to his grandson Henry C. Hony; presented by him to Marlborough College in 1955; Marlborough College sale, Christie's, 10 June 1999, lot 9 sold by private treaty to the Andrew Brownsword Arts Foundation.
Title of exhibition: Works by the Old Masters: and by Deceased Masters of the British School (Winter Exhibition)
Title of exhibition: [long-term loan]
Title of exhibition: Thomas Gainsborough
Title of exhibition: Gainsborough 1727-1788
Title of exhibition: Love's Prospect: Gainsborough's Byam Family and the eighteenth century marriage portrait
Title of exhibition: Pickpocketing the Rich: Portrait painting in Bath 1720-1800
Title of exhibition: Pictures of Innocence: Portraits of Children from Hogarth to Lawrence
Title of exhibition: Citizens and Kings: Portraiture in the age of David and Goya 1770-1830