richard gibson. oxford vocabulary
ibson, Richard [called Dwarf Gibson] (1605/1615?–1690), miniature painter, is generally said, but on unstated original authority, to have been born in Cumberland. More recently it has been proposed that he may have been the Richard, son of John Gibson, ‘picturemaker’, who was baptized in London at the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on 7 July 1605 (Edmond, 107). Richard the miniaturist was a dwarf, 3 foot 10 inches in height, a fact of great significance for his whole career.
Gibson’s first employment was as a page in the house of ‘a Lady at Mortlack’ (de Piles, 423). Noticing his talent for drawing she apprenticed him to Francis Cleyn (c.1582–1658), under whom he worked at the new Mortlake tapestry works (established 1619) until some time in the 1630s, when he entered the service of Philip Herbert, fourth earl of Pembroke, the lord chamberlain. The first reference to him in this capacity, and already painting miniatures, is in a memorandum by Abraham van der Doort, the keeper of the Royal Collection:
the Picture of Adonis Venus Cupid and some doggs … done by Peter Oliver after Titian … tis pis auff ardonis was te noffember 1639 bij mi diliffert tu da kings hands inde Kabint and bij his Magen diliffert tu dick melort chamerlings dwarff vor tu kopit and den tu ristorit agn vorda kings us tu de Kabint. (‘Abraham van der Doort’s catalogue’, 104)
Another member of Pembroke’s household was Gibson’s future wife, Anne Sheppard (d. 1707). Her birth date is unknown but she must have been considerably younger than her husband, since she seems to have been bearing children until 1662. She also was a dwarf; she appears in Van Dyck’s portrait of Mary, duchess of Richmond, Pembroke’s daughter-in-law, at her first marriage (Vertue, Note Books, 5.129; Davis, 1.44). According to Buckeridge both Richard Gibson and Anne Sheppard had by 1639 acquired appointments at court—Gibson as ‘Page of the Back-Stairs’—and were so in favour with the king that he ‘gave him his wife in marriage’ (de Piles, 423–4). The marriage between Richard and Anne was one of the last great court festivities in London before the political situation of the monarchy deteriorated at the outset of the civil wars. It took place at the church of St Pancras, Soper Lane, on St Valentine’s day, 14 February 1641.
Whatever his relationship with the king had been Gibson did not follow him to Oxford in 1642 but remained firmly attached to Pembroke in London. He lived in Long Acre, on the north side, not far from Samuel Cooper and other miniaturists in this part of London. During the wars Gibson may also have been at Wilton House, Wiltshire, which notionally provides the Elysian setting for the famous double portrait of him and his wife by another member of the Pembroke circle, Sir Peter Lely (formerly in the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas).
After Pembroke’s death, in January 1650, Gibson became associated with Charles, second earl of Carnarvon, the grandson of Pembroke. It is from the extended Carnarvon family that many of the identifiable subjects of Gibson’s surviving miniatures were derived during the 1650s, such as the Lady Katherine Dormer of c.1658 (V&A). Some bear the monogram DG, for Dick or perhaps Dwarf Gibson; both had been familiar and affectionate names for him since his youth. The Carnarvon connection was maintained into the Restoration, but by that time the world, and evidently Gibson’s estimation of himself, had changed.
As a man of means—for he had a reliable annuity from the Pembrokes—and of acknowledged talent—for Sanderson (p. 20) had called him one of the most eminent limners of the day—Gibson seems to have developed a much wider clientele. He was evidently busy:
I cannot possibly prevail with Gibson the Painter to finish my Ladies picture by express from the King he is so take up in copying out 2 of the Countess of Castle Main that he will not intermeddle these 10 days with any other, and the great Picture must also waite his leisure without which he cannot worke. Mr ffranklin saith he will take care to send them as soon as the little one is finished. (John Booth, agent in London, to his principal, Henry Ingram, first Viscount Ingram, 7 Dec 1664, in Reynolds)
And, marking the enlarged circumstances of his life, in the late 1660s he changed the form of his signature, from DG to RG in monogram. The earliest known occurrence of the new form of the signature is on a chalk drawing of 1669 in the British Museum; it appears two years later on Lady Elizabeth Dormer (1671; V&A), and again on one of Gibson’s last portraits of his long-standing patron Elizabeth, countess of Carnarvon (Yale U. CBA).
In May 1672 Gibson’s even longer-standing relationship with the crown was revived when he was appointed, two weeks after the death of Samuel Cooper, as ‘picturemaker’—that is, king’s limner (miniaturist), an appointment which he held, however, only until the next year, when he was succeeded by Nicholas Dixon (private information). Instead he was appointed drawing-master to the two young daughters of James, duke of York: Mary (b. 1662) and Anne (b. 1665). He remained close to Mary and accompanied her to The Hague on her marriage to Prince William of Orange in 1677. He took lodgings in Amsterdam, first at the house of Johan Nieulant, a silversmith in the Singel; then, in March 1679, he took a substantial house on the east side of the Boekhorststraat. He emerges from many references in the correspondence of Christiaan Huygens (1629–1695), the great mathematician and natural philosopher, as an active collector and dealer in the art market (Œuvres complètes).
Richard and Anne Gibson had five surviving children, of whom Susannah-Penelope Rosse was a miniaturist of distinction in her own right, and Anne van Vrybergen (b. 1662) was the subject of a painful marital misunderstanding and breakdown, summarized in a detailed deposition by Richard Gibson to the Hof van Holland of 24 September 1681 (Bredius, 125). The sons, William, John, and Edward Gibson, were evidently older and of substance, for when Gibson made his will in 1677, before departing for The Hague, he made provision for his daughters and their descendants or, failing them, for his brother Edward (buried apparently at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 25 August 1690), to the exclusion of his sons. In the absence of firm evidence to the contrary it seems sensible to suggest that William, the eldest son, was actually William Gibson (1644–1703), said by Buckeridge (de Piles, 425) to have been a miniaturist, connoisseur, and dealer in old-master drawings, to whom a portrait of Henry Cavendish, earl of Ogle, has been attributed (Goulding, 131). He was born in 1644, at about the time when Richard’s eldest surviving son might have been born; he was the pupil of Richard Gibson and of Peter Lely, just as a son of Richard might have been; and he was a connoisseur-dealer, like Richard. He lived in the parish of St Giles-in-the-Fields, London, and was buried at Richmond in Surrey. John Gibson, perhaps named after his grandfather, is said to have been an army officer in the Netherlands. Edward, evidently named after his uncle, may be ‘Mr. Edw. Gibson’, said by Buckeridge (de Piles, 425) to be an oil painter and subsequently a pastellist, who died aged thirty-three and was buried at Richmond. It has been suggested in connection with a drawing, said to be a self-portrait, in the National Portrait Gallery, London, that he flourished from 1668 to 1701 and was resident in the Strand (Piper, 137–8). Dirck Gibson (fl. 1690–1712), who has even been suggested as the author of the ‘DG’ miniatures of the 1650s, and his possible brother Hendrick have also been suggested as sons (Foskett, 1.287) but they seem to be of a different family, and certainly are of a different generation from Richard’s offspring.
Richard and Anne Gibson returned to London when Princess Mary and William of Orange acceded to the British throne in 1688. Gibson seems to have lived with his daughter Susannah-Penelope in the Henrietta Street house that had once been Samuel Cooper’s. He died on 20 July 1690, as is attested by the signatures on his will (transcribed in Edmond, 109) of Susannah-Penelope, Anne, William, and Edward—John being presumably still in the Netherlands.
As a miniaturist Richard Gibson has only recently emerged from the confusion arising from his change of signature. The prime characteristic of his hand, clearly visible in the Elizabeth Capell, Countess of Carnarvon (V&A), in which the original bright-red cheeks of the sitter have survived unfaded, is the tendency of the hatching strokes in the flesh painting to move in diagonal parallel groups. This striation is combined with an impasto effect, visible under raking light, very different from the smooth transparency aimed at by the main seventeenth-century miniaturists. The impasto is not closely related to the basic pattern of hatching strokes, as it is in the blending process that Cooper and others adopted increasingly from c.1660, but it sweeps around the outlines of jaw, nose, and eyebrows, giving them a strong, painterly presence. These and other differences from the main technical tradition of miniature painting, such as the way in which the carnation ground is laid in and the way that white shirts or lace are painted, suggest that Gibson became a limner on the basis of the technical training that he had received as a designer and painter, reinforced by the encouragement of Lely, rather than in a miniaturist’s studio in London. After about 1660, possibly under Cooper’s influence, the composition and colouring of his miniatures change but the fundamental technique remains similar. None the less the sheer numbers of surviving later seventeenth-century miniatures that are in the Gibson manner suggest that more than one hand was responsible for them. The fact that at least three of Gibson’s children seem to have been active in the art makes it likely that they were responsible for some of the work presently regarded as in Richard’s general manner; perhaps new documents or improved connoisseurship will eventually make it possible to distinguish their hands.