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This is one of only a few group portraits by Gainsborough, who generally preferred to paint individuals. The sitter to the left is probably Charles Crokatt, while the man on the right wearing a dashing red waistcoat is Peter Darnell Muilman. Both were the sons of rich merchants who had recently acquired fine estates in Essex. The man playing the flute in the centre is William Keable, a minor portrait painter who may have taught the young gentlemen music and drawing.

In this early painting, Gainsborough fuses his three great interests in life: portraiture, landscape painting and music.

September 2004