Catalogue entry

T02000 Giovanna Baccelli exh. 1782 . Not inscribed

Oil on canvas, 89 ¼ x 58 ½ (226. 7x 148.6)

Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) with a contribution from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1975

OJII: Painted for John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset; remained at Knole, Sevenoaks, until 1890, when sold privately to S. Cunliffe-Lister, later Lord Masham; purchased 1975 from the Trustees of the Swinton Settled Estates through Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd

Exh: R.A. 1782 (230); Old Masters, R.A., 1872 (56); Berlin 1908 (57); Bradford, Cartwright Hall, 1925; Ipswich, 1927 (54, repr. pl. VIII); British Art, R.A. 1934(176);A Hundred Years of the Royal Academy, R.A. 1951 (221); Gainsborough's Giovanna Baccelli, Tate Gallery, 1976 (10, repr. in col.)

Lit: G. W. Fulcher, Gainsborough, 1856, p.185; Sir W. Armstrong, Gainsborough, 1904, p.258; W. T. Whitley, Gainsborough, 1915, pp.180, 184-5,188,244; V. Sackville-West, Knole and the Sackvilles, 1922, p.189- 92; C. J. Phillips, History of the Sackville Family, 1929, II, pp.190, 192, 200-2, 343, 407, 412, 436; Commemorative Catalogue of the [R.A.] Exhibition of British Art 1934, 1935, p.56, no.201; I. Guest, 'The Italian Lady at Knole' in Ballet Annual, 1957, no.11, p.78, repr.; E. K. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, 1958, pp.28, 52, cat. no.29, repr. pl.235; J. Hayes, Gainsborough Paintings and Drawings, repro pl.128 (in col.) and 132 (detail); E. Einberg, Gainsborough's Giovanna Baccelli, 1976 (repr. in col.)

Engr: J. Jones 1784 in mezzotint

Giovanna Zanerini, known on the stage as Baccelli, was for many years one of the principal ballerinas at the King's Theatre, Haymarket, where she first appeared in 1774. Her distinguished dancing career reached its peak in the brilliant season of 1780-1 when she appeared with Gaetan Vestris and his son AugUste in several important ballets devised by Noverre that took London by storm. The costume she is wearing in this picture seems to be adapted from one of these, namely that for her role in Les Amans Surpris, a ballet by Simonet first performed in London in December 1780, in which she partnered the younger Vestris in his first wildly successful appearance in England. The matching costumes of both Baccelli and Vestris were engraved by Thornthwaite after J. Roberts for Bell's British Theatre (15 May and 20 July 1781 respectively). She also danced with great success in her native Venice in 1783-4, and at the Paris Opera as late as 1788.

From about 1779 she was the mistress of George Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset (1745-1799) with whom she lived in lavish style both at his seat at Knole, Sevenoaks, and in Paris during his term there as ambassador from 1783 until 1789. She and the Duke parted amicably in 1789, her independence secured by an annuity of £400 which the Duke had settled on her in 1785 (Kent Record Office, Sackville papers, U269/T91/7-8). She died on 7 May 1801, after a lengthy illness, at her lodgings in Sackville Street, Piccadilly, 'generally respected for her benevolence' (Gentleman's Magazine, June 1801, p.573).

Apart from Gainsborough, she was also painted by Ozias Humphry (exh. R.A. 1780, no.335; untraced), Reynolds (exh. R.A. 1783, no.206; Sackville collection, Knole), John Graham (exh. R.A. 1784, no.372; untraced) and later Gainsborough Dupont (Royal Collection). She was also twice sculpted by John Baptist Locatelli (a bust exh. R.A. 1781, no.516, and a full-length statue now at Knole).

In this painting Gainsborough reaches one of the peaks of his mature portrait style, displaying not only his famed ability to catch a likeness, but also a brilliant fluency of brushwork and an increasing concern with compositional problems expressive of movement. When the painting was exhibited at the R.A. in 1782, it was chiefly praised as an excellent likeness, although at least one reviewer (quoted in Whitley, 1915, p.188) could not help commenting on the obvious fact that the lady is shown wearing stage-makeup: '...the artist was not only obliged to vivify and embellish; but, if he would be thought to copy the original, to lay on his colouring thickly. In this he has succeeded, for the face of this admirable dancer is evidently paint-painted'. The no less accomplished half-length of the Duke, still in the possession of the Sackville family (Waterhouse 1958, p.63, no.203, repr. pl.251) was also announced for the 1782 exhibition, but was not, in the event, shown. A receipt from Gainsborough is still preserved at Knole:

'Recd. of His Grace the Duke of Dorset one hundred Guineas in full for two ¾ Portraits of his Grace, one full length of Madelle Baccelli, two Landskips and one sketch of Begger Boy and Girl £105. June 15 1784. Tho. Gainsborough'.

A small finished oil sketch for this painting (22X 15 ½ ins.) is in the collection of Sir Alfred Beit, Bart., Russborough. It has no tambourine in the lower left corner and there are other slight compositional variations. The chief of these are the much lower trees in the background which Gainsborough raised in the finished version to engulf the outstretched arm, thus throwing the magnificent head into greater relief.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978