There can be little doubt that this beautiful portrait, which appears to date from c.1760 - possibly the very early 1760s - is of a lady in Gainsborough's close circle. Unusually shown in profile, the sitter is portrayed with particular sensitivity, and the smaller-than-standard format is of a type the artist seems to have reserved for portraits of members of his family (several examples included in Gainsborough's Family, exhibition at Gainsborough's House, Sudbury, 1988, catalogue by Hugh Belsey) and, very occassionally, close friends.
Mary, the second eldest of John and Mary Gainsborough's eight chidren (Thomas was the youngest), married the Rev. Christopher Gibbon in 1740, but was widowed in 1760 when her husband was just forty-five. In 1762 she moved to Bath, the city in which her youngest brother had settled in 1758-59. There she established a millinery business in Thomas' house on Abbey Street, yards away from the Pump Room, remaining there until 1776, two years after her brother had moved to London. The only known likeness of Mary is a caricature showing her as an old lady (reproduced in Susan Sloman, 'Gainsborough and 'the lodging-house way'', in Gainsborough's House Society Annual Report, 1991/92, p.36, fig.16).
We are very grateful to Hugh Belsey and Susan Sloman for their thoughts on this portrait.