‘This small-scale portrait depicts three fashionably attired men resting in a landscape. The flautist, seated in the centre, is William Keable (1714-1744), who was also a minor portraitist; the other figures are Peter Darnell Muilman (1730-1766) and Charles Crokatt (1730-1769), the sons of two of mid eighteenth-century Britain’s most important overseas traders, although it is not certain which is which.
Around the time that the portrait was painted, Charles Crokatt married Anna Muilman (Peter Muilman’s sister), thereby establishing a close bond between the two families. It was also at this time that the Crokatts and Muilmans bought large estates in the Essex countryside: Luxborough Hall, near Chigwell, and Dagnams, near Romford.
William Keable, who is thought to have acted as a music tutor for his companions in the portrait, was a Suffolk born artist who almost certainly knew Gainsborough. They both attended St. Martin’s Lane Academy during the 1740s, and the Suffolk antiquarian and writer, Joshua Kirby, appears to have been a mutual acquaintance.
The picture combines all of Gainsborough’s main interests – portraiture, landscape painting and music. Its composition and technique is typical the artist’s early ‘conversation pieces’, in which refined clientele are usually shown in outdoor settings, often evocative of the East Anglian countryside.’
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