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C O U R S E 
Sexing the Canvas: Art and Gender
Jeanette Hoorn, The University of Melbourne
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
Gainsborough's Portrait of Karl Friedrich Abel
Notes taken on September 7, 2016 by Edward Tanguay
Portrait of Karl Friedrich Abel
Hunting Art Gallery, San Marino, California
Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)
a portrait of a musician as a man of sensibility
Karl Friedrich Abel
German musician who trained under Bach
one of the last great virtuosi of the viola de gamba
seen at desk poised over a musical score
presented as the consummate musician, active in his profession
although seated, appears as a dynamic 18th century gentleman
beautifully dressed in a fine fabric of subtle brown or gold
he is correcting or writing a musical score
one which he might perform on his viola de gamba which rests on his knee
he is the epitome of respectability and success
a man at the peak of his powers
presents a grand figure from the world of music
harmonious and compositionally rhythmic
evocative of musical composition itself
communicates an allowance of excessive emotion when it comes to music
himself had an affinity for the violo
organized chamber concerts
Gainsborough's friend Henry Dudley Bait
Gainsborough always plays his violo to the feelings
Gainsborough often expressed he was free of the labors his portraits required of him
vibration was one of the paradigms of the culture of sensibility
"The Sense of Hearing" (1716)
Philippe Mercier (1691-1760)
a French painter and etcher, who lived principally and was active in England
born in Berlin of French extraction
studied painting at the Akademie der Wissenschaften
Hume emphasized the harmonic possibilities of the nervous system
comparing the affections transmitted by humans to the sounds of musical instruments
listening to music was part of the culture of sensibility
immoderate and excessive emotion were not encouraged
but made an exception for the visual and performing arts, allowing
a plausible enthusiasm
a reasonable ecstasy and transport
in relation to architecture, paintings, and music
Gainsborough paints Abel, his loved friend, though the codes of a gendered sensibility
Abel is powerful, professional, and active
sitting astride his chair with his legs apart
he leans forward in his chair
his bow resting at a steep angle at his thigh
his right hand poised over the sheet of music
is poised in a moment of concentration
conveyed through his subtle facial expressions
this image is one of a man of sensibility
the style of which would have been unthinkable for a woman of his class
Abel asserts masculine sensibility and authority in a subtle way
as he looks out of the picture plane, addressing the viewer with his gaze
his Pomeranian rests by his feet
she has almost as much importance in the composition as Abel's famed musical instrument
presenting an image of companionship, harmony, and mutual support
here we see a great musician at ease with his dog
it is difficult to determine if the spirit of the figure, the clearly marked meaning of the face, the correctness of the dog, or the richness of the chair cover deserve the highest commendation
as in other paintings
Gainsborough uses the image as a means of illustrating the sensibility that included in its gambit of cohabitation with domestic animals and their treatment