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One of Gainsborough's great gifts as a painter was his ability to convey in his sitters a sense both of dignity and informality, and to combine these in a peculiarly English way. In this portrait, probably commissioned in 1768 to celebrate Kilmorey's inheriting the title, the twisting spiral of the tree trunk functions as the equivalent of the classical column so often used in Baroque portraiture, and helps to emphasise the sitter's eminence. However, the grand and swagger air is softened by the suggestion of a smile on Kilmorey's face. The cool, sylvan landscape painted in thin greys and silvers serves to offset the deep rich blues, scarlets and gold of the sitter's costume.

August 2004