This is the only known portrait of the writer Ignatius Sancho. It was painted in 1768, when he was employed as a valet by George Brudenell, the Duke of Montagu. Rather than servants’ livery, he wears a gold-trimmed waistcoat, reflecting his valued position within this noble household. Sancho’s gentlemanly posture, with his hand tucked into his waistcoat, conveys a sense of dignity and poise.
Who made and owned the painting?
It was painted by Thomas Gainsborough (1727‒1788), the great portrait artist who had a profitable business in fashionable 18th-century Bath. Gainsborough also painted the Duke and Duchess of Montagu, and they probably paid for this portrait and presented it to Sancho. After his death, Sancho’s daughter Elizabeth sent it as a gift to their family friend, William Stevenson.
A note on the back
Though the picture is full of skill and warmth, it seems to have been done quickly. A 19th-century catalogue describes a note by Stevenson on the back of the canvas, saying ‘This sketch by Mr Gainsborough, of Bath, was done in one hour and forty minutes, November 29th, 1768’.
The portrait served as the basis for an engraving by Francesco Bartolozzi, which appeared in the printed edition of Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho (1782).