JOHN GAY was a gentleman, of RAINTHORPE HALL, TASBURGH, NORWICH.
Oil on canvas
EXHIBITED: JOHN OPIE at the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro (2007)
PROVENANCE BY DESCENT:
MARY (GAY) GIRDLESTONE (married Theophilus Girdlestone.(1759 – 1832 )
CANON WILLIAM HARDING GIRDLESTONE of BRISTOL (1821- 1897)
Miss MARY GIRDLESTONE of Wimbledon (obit 1935)
CHRISTIE’S 29th November 1935
John Gay's father was a worsted weaver in St Swithin’s, Norwich and was Mayor of Norwich in 1754. Possibly it was the sitter’s father whose industry purchased the Elizabethan house at Rainthorpe.
Opie’s second wife was Amelia Alderson, of Norwich. As her father was a surgeon in that city, her family enjoyed enviable status there. She mixed in the highest circles and would certainly have known John Gay.
After her marriage she wanted to spend time with her father in Norwich- and wanted her husband to stay there with her. She quickly realised that he would only stay in Norwich if there were portraits to be painted.
She also understood that in the eyes of Norwich society she had married beneath her. The best way to convince her Norwich friends that her husband was not the penniless peasant divorcee that they supposed, was to arrange for a series of portraits which would prove his worth.
Opie painted John Gay and also Gay’s charming daughter, Mary. She was then aged 19. She is depicted half-length, in white dress and black scarf.
The portraits were an outstanding success; this current picture was declared “The most speaking likeness ever painted.” (Girdlestone)
Opie painted a series of portraits of Norwich people, several of which are on display to the public in Norwich.
The portrait of Gay’s daughter Mary is now in the Norwich Castle Museum collection, displayed at the Strangers Hall.