1760s Miss Corbetta Owen by Thomas Gainsborough (Philip Mould)

Philip Mould's notes about this portriat follow:  "This portrait was executed during Thomas Gainsborough's lengthy and lucrative residence in Bath, then enjoying its heyday as a curative spa and a fashionable resort for London and Country Society. Gainsborough settled in Bath in October 1759, having exhausted the patronage for portraits in his native Suffolk and from his arrival until his departure for London in 1774, a steady flow of sitters came to his studio. 

This portrait combines the freedom and ease of style characteristic of Gainsborough's Bath-period portraits with the freshness and charm of the works executed in Sudbury and Ipswich. In many ways, these years were a critical point in Gainsborough's artistic development, as he began to graft the grace and elegance of Van Dyck's portraiture, which he had seen in local collections such as that of Lord Herbert at Wilton, which he is known to have visited, onto what Waterhouse describes as ''his own native, informal style'' (Gainsborough 1958 p20).

Unusually for a portrait, even for a portrait by Gainsborough, this painting has proved an inspiration to verse. A poem written in the 1860s under the pseudonym of Iohannes Towey, gives an early glimpse of the painting''s attribution as well as its traditional subject, Corbetta Owen, Lt Gen Owen's younger daughter:

What amiability and what grace

Dwell in the expression of that face

And Gainsborough's genius was put forth

To paint that form of matchless worth,

His inspiration was displayed

In painting such enchanting maid

A beauty born at Orielton

Fair mother of the Late Sir John

Lt Gen. John Owen, the second son of Sir Arthur Owen, 3rd Bart. of Orielton, was Member of Parliament for West Looe, although he was a resident of Bath. His two daughters, Emma (born Dublin 1749) and Corbetta (born 1750), lived with him in the fashionable Spa town and it is unsurprising that they should have sought out Gainsborough for a likeness. Emma married her cousin, Hugh Owen MP (1729-1809), who succeeded in 1755 to the estate of his father, and in 1788 to the Lawrenny estates of his uncle, as a condition of which in 1789 the couple took the uncle's surname of Barlow. Corbetta''s marriage to the impoverished Joseph Lord seemed initially to be a less satisfactory match, although their son John Lord Owen was to inherit the Orielton estate from his cousin Sir Hugh Owen 6th Baronet (1782-1809). Appropriately for the owner of a great estate John Lord Owen (1776-1861) was created a baronet in 1813 and assumed the name and arms of Owen in preference to those of Lord. He was, however, to be the ruin of his new state, and the expense of contesting early nineteenth century elections did irreparable damage to the family's fortune."

Corbetta Owen's dress uses some gold to color a white field of satin and lace in this 1760s Gainsborough portrait.

Keywords:  1760s, Gainsborough, British, straight coiffure, floral headdress, scoop decolletage, modesty piece, bertha, lace, revers, stomacher, bows, close sleeves, forward-back flared engageantes


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