The earliest known self-portrait by Thomas Gainsborough, R.A., (1727-1788), one of the most important and influential painters of 18th century England, is expected to sell for in excess of £40,000 at Cheffins Fine Sale in Cambridge on 21st April.

The picture is believed to be one of Gainsborough’s earliest attempts at painting in oil and likely to have been made soon after he moved from his native Sudbury in Suffolk to London at the age of thirteen in 1740. This small but important painting comes from a London-based private collection where it has been held since 2008. Now offered for the first time at auction, the portrait has been exhibited at Tate Britain, The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Nicolas Martineau from Cheffins comments: “This painting represents an exciting glimpse into Gainsborough’s early career and is the first of a series of self-portraits made throughout his life, as well as being thought by scholars to be one of his earliest attempts at working in oil. The picture shows an important step in Gainsborough’s development to becoming the leading portraitist in 18th century England and it is a privilege to be offering it here at Cheffins in his native East Anglia.”

The self-portrait has changed hands three times since 1974 when it was purchased from the estate of Ernest Albert Butcher (a descendant of Robert Butcher) in Australia by the collector, dealer and philanthropist Neville Podmore. It was subsequently purchased by Felder Old Master Paintings in 2001 and then Philip Mould, Historical Portraits, in 2005 before entering the collection of the current owner. It is not altogether clear how the picture was acquired by the Butcher family, but a possible explanation is that it was acquired by Robert Butcher, Steward to 4th Duke of Bedford (1710-1771). The Duke was one of Gainsborough’s earliest patrons and it’s believed that the artist and Butcher had direct dealings with each other whilst Gainsborough painted portraits of the Duke and Duchess in the 1760’s. 

Auction: The Fine Sale, 21st April 2021
 Cheffins, Clifton House, 1-2 Clifton Road, Cambridge, UK, CB1 7EA

For further information contact the Fine Art Department on 01223 213343,