Portrait of Catherine Warneford, née Calverley, of Warneford Place, half-length, in a blue silk dress, and a lace fichu, within a painted oval.

Oil on canvas: 73.2 x 63.8cm (28 13/16 x 25 1/8in).


By family descent to the sitter's great-great grandson, Jack Warneford (1881–1960).  His daughter, Mary Isabella (1905–90), who married Harold Gibson (d. 1961).  Thence by descent to her granddaughter.


It was during his stay at Bath that Gainsborough’s career as a portraitist started to flourish, and in November 1766, when the fashionable King’s Circus, designed by John Wood the Elder, was nearly complete, that Gainsborough decided to relocate his studio here from Abbey Street.  It was around this time that Catherine Warneford, recently enriched by a sizeable inheritance from her late father, sought out the most fashionable artist working in Bath. 

The Warneford family has a long history dating back about eight hundred years.  Catherine was one of the most successful and influential of that name; she built Warneford Place in Wiltshire, and her fortune went on to found two hospitals.  Her inherited wealth and position as head of the family is evidenced here by her choice of an elaborate and expensive costume for this portrait, which Rosemary Harden of the Fashion Museum, Bath has described thus:

“The sitter wears an open robe of blue silk, decorated with robings of ruched silk, together with a button-through stomacher of matching fabric which is trimmed with a serpentine pattern of the same ruched silk.  Around her neck, Catherine wears a black ribbon choker (very typical for this date) and a neck handkerchief, or fichu, of cream silk lace.  She wears a muslin cap on her piled up hair, generally worn indoors at this date or under a broad-brimmed straw hat when walking outside.” 

The feigned oval is a device more often associated with portraits of the seventeenth century, but was often employed by Gainsborough in his Bath period portraits to harmonise the position of his sitter within the composition without any necessity for a background.

The provenance of this portrait is exceptionally complete, in that we can trace the painting from the sitter through seven generations to the previous owner.

This portrait will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's paintings being prepared by Dr. Hugh Belsey.















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