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Post Lot Text
Portrait of Giusto Tenducci
oil on canvas
Among the portraits that Gainsborough executed while living and working in Bath (1754-1774) a significant number were of musicians, both amateur and professional. Gainsborough had a deep interest in music and was closely entwined in Bath musical circles, counting many of the most prominent musical figures of the day among his coterie of close friends. His portraits of his musical friends and acquaintances are among the most sensitive and compelling of his Bath period portraits. Musical performances, both public and private were central to life in mid-18th Century Bath and formed part of the ritual of social life in the city and Gainsborough's work in the city reflects this. It is not a coincidence that, as Susan Sloman points out, 'The two great showpiece portraits that marked the beginning and end of Gainsborough's Bath career are both of musicians, the portrait of Ann Ford exhibited at Abbey Street in 1760 and that of Johann Christian Fischer shown at the Circus in 1774'(op.cit., p. 100). Gainsborough, whose love of music was evident before his move to Bath, was able there to develop his understanding of music in the company of many of the great virtuoso performers of the day, such as Carl Friedrich Abel (1725-1787) and the oboist Johann Christian Fischer (1733-1800), and many of the professional musicians who visited the city in the 1760s were to become lifelong friends. Among Gainsborough's intimate circle of musical friends, most of whom he portrayed, were many of the central figures in Bath's musical world such as Thomas Chilcot (c. 1706-1766), organist for Bath Abbey, the most prestigious musical appointment in the City, the organist John Stanley (1712-1786), and the celebrated singer Thomas Linley (1733-95), one of the leading figures in Bath's musical life. Linley, of whom Gainsborough executed a portrait in circa 1771, was closely connected to almost all of Gainsborough's musical sitters in Bath, and it was he who first introduced Tenducci, who was to become such a favourite of Bath audiences, to the city. It seems likely that he was introduced to Gainsborough through their mutual friend the composer Johann Christian Bach.
The singer, composer, and celebrity Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci (c. 1735-1790), who was born in Siena and trained at the Naples Conservatory (c. 1744-50), where his principal singing teacher was the castrato Caffarelli, had made his debut as a soprano castrato at Cagliari in 1750 during the marriage celebrations of the Duke of Savoy. He had moved to London in the autumn of 1758 as 'second man' at the King's Theatre, where he attracted particular attention in Cocchi's opera Ciro Riconosciuto in which his talent eclipsed the principal singer Potenza. In 1762, he appeared as Arbaces in Thomas Arne's English opera Artaxerxes at Covent Garden, in which he was much acclaimed for his singing of Water Parted from the Sea, and he sang at the Salisbury festivals in 1762-1764, and each summer from 1761 to 1764 at Ranelagh Gardens. Something of the quality of his voice was captured by Tobias Smollett in his novel Humphrey Clinker (1771) in which Lydia Melford describes a visit to Ranelagh:
'There I heard the famous Tenducci, a thing from Italy; It looks for all the world like a man, though they say it is not. The voice to be sure, is neither man's nor woman's; but it is more melodious that either; and it warbled so divinely, that, while I listened, I really thought myself in paradise.'
Notorious for both his vanity and his extravagance, Tenducci was to spend much of his career trying to keep a step ahead of his creditors. He moved to Ireland in 1765, where he had great success at the Smock Alley Theatre, but caused a sensation there with his elopement with Miss Dorothea Maunsell, the wealthy young daughter of Thomas Maunsell, an influential barrister. The couple moved to Edinburgh in 1768, and then to London in 1769, where Tenducci sang at Covent Garden and the King's Theater, and where they settled until debts obliged them to leave temporarily for Italy in 1771. Over the next five years Tenducci sang in many of the great operatic centres, including Rome, Naples and Venice. He reappeared on the London stage in 1777, but the following year financial difficulties once more obliged him to leave London, this time for France, where, with his friend the composer Johann Christian Bach, he in August 1778 met Mozart, who wrote a Scena for him. He returned to London once more the following year. There he occupied himself singing principally at concerts, but still made appearances in operas. He also gained a reputation as a teacher, publishing his Instruction of Mr Tenducci to his Scholars (circa 1785) and also directed the celebrated Handel festivals in Westminster Abbey from 1784. He retired from public performances in 1786 and afterwards left England for Italy and died in Genoa in 1790.
This portrait of Tenducci, which is thought likely to have been painted in circa 1773-1775, is one of two portraits of Tenducci executed by Gainsborough at that time which are of similar format and composition. The other, which is first recorded in the collection of Samuel Archbutt, and later in that of John Neeld, is now in Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham (E.K. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, London, 1958, p. 92, no. 656). In both Tenducci is shown, half-length, holding a sheet of music in his left hand. The present composition differs from the Barber Institute portrait, which is less finished, in that it includes the singer's right hand gesturing toward the sheet of music in his left hand. While in the past some doubt was cast on the identification of the sitter in these portraits as Tenducci, on the basis of comparison with the portrait of him by Thomas Beach which was exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1783, comparison of the portraits is not conclusive either way. However, the fact that the present picture was in the collection of the celebrated English Tenor John Braham (1774-1856), a contemporary of Tenducci's, who must have known the composer at least by sight, supports the identification.
We are grateful to Hugh Belsey for his assistance with the catalogue entry.