Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88)
This expressive portrait of remarkably good condition, depicts the Oxford banker Thomas Walker of Woodstock, auditor to George Spencer, Duke of Marlborough and Clerk of the Peace in Oxford...
Painted by one of the greatest portrait painters of the eighteenth century, Thomas Walker is depicted by Thomas Gainsborough in a simple, understated feigned oval. In his seminal monograph Gainsborough, Ellis Waterhouse writes that this portrait was painted during the artist’s London period, after he returned from Bath a successful portrait painter. His new-found confidence can be seen through his virtuoso brushstrokes and pink undertones, specifically under the fibrous wig, which gives this work the lightness of a pastel drawing.
Although little is known about the early life of Thomas Walker, he married Susannah Spibye in 1754 in Wakefield, Yorkshire, but spent the majority of his life in Woodstock, Oxford. He undertook several positions of authority in Oxfordshire including auditor to George Spencer, Duke of Marlborough, Receiver-General of Oxfordshire, Deputy Clerk of the Peace between 1759 and 1762 and Clerk of the Peace between 1767 and 1777. Walker was also the founder of Thomas Walker & Co. a successful Oxfordshire bank which was continued by his nephew Thomas Richard Walker (c.1780-1837) of Heathfield House, Bletchingdon in the early nineteenth century.
Thomas Walker is still remembered in Woodstock today. A plaque on the wall of Fletcher’s House, Park Street (now part of The Oxfordshire Museum) commemorates Thomas Walker and the refurbishments he carried out on the property, having bought it from the Duke of Marlborough in 1795. There is also a memorial to Thomas and his wife Susannah Walker in the Church of St Mary Magdalene in the town.
This is the only known portrait by Gainsborough of Thomas Walker, thought to date from c.1780, however there is a contemporary version of this portrait, without a feigned oval, by an unknown artist in the collection of Oxfordshire County Council. In the 1970s it was on display in the Deputy County Secretary’s Room and was described as by the School of Gainsborough and is the same size as the present portrait. At the time this portrait was painted, Gainsborough had moved from Bath to London and was residing at Schomberg House in Pall Mall, just a stone’s throw away from Philip Mould & Co. Although Gainsborough was a founding member of the Royal Academy, he quarrelled with the institute in 1773 over the hanging of his pictures and did not exhibit there for four years. In 1784 the same issues arose and Gainsborough never exhibited at the Royal Academy again. During the later 1770s and early 1780s he was receiving commissions from the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland and the Royal family. Before Gainsborough died in 1788 he reconciled with Sir Joshua Reynolds, President of the Royal Academy and lifelong rival. He was buried in Kew Churchyard in London.
 E. Waterhouse, Gainsborough (Bungay, 1966) p.95, no.710.
 E. Marshall, The Early History of Woodstock Manor and its Environs in Bladon, Hensington, New Woodstock, Blenheim, (London, 1873) p.351; County Hall, Oxford portrait inventory page 2, (April, 1976).
 E. Marshall, The Early History of Woodstock Manor and its Environs in Bladon, Hensington, New Woodstock, Blenheim, (London, 1873) p.351.