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Andrews, Robertlocked

(1725–1806)
  • Hugh Belsey

Robert Andrews (1725–1806)

by Thomas Gainsborough, c.1750

© National Gallery, London / The Bridgeman Art Library

Andrews, Robert (1725–1806), landowner and subject of a painting by Thomas Gainsborough, was born at Bulmer, Essex, on 10 November 1725, the son of Robert Andrews (1661–1735) and his fourth wife, Martha (d. 1749), the daughter of James Brewster (d. 1725), also of Bulmer. He was baptized at St Andrew's, Bulmer, on 30 November. Andrews was educated at the grammar school at Sudbury, Suffolk, and matriculated at University College, Oxford, on 14 July 1744, though he is not recorded as taking a degree. On 10 November 1748 he married Frances Andrews [née Carter] (1732–1780) at All Saints' Church, Sudbury. Frances was the only daughter and heiress of William Carter (1694–1750) of Ballingdon House, Sudbury, and his wife, Frances (b. 1703), daughter of a rich Huguenot cloth merchant, Claude Jamineau.

The will of Frances's father, William, included a bequest of 'my half part of the freehold estate late Mrs Magarth in Bulmer' to his executor and son-in-law, Robert Andrews (TNA: PRO, PROB 11/784/155). On 20 April 1717 the elder Robert Andrews had bought a moiety of the same estate from Mary, the widow of Miles Magrath of Bury St Edmunds. The estate passed to Martha, the widow of Robert Andrews senior, for her lifetime with remainder to their son Robert. However, at her death in 1749 she bequeathed her half of the estate to Isaac Toten of Pebmarsh to whom she also owed £500, with the residue of her estate passing to her stepson William Nunn. William Carter must have negotiated and purchased this parcel of land to unite the two halves of the estate in 1749–50. Consequently the reunification of the estate was celebrated in the famous double portrait of Robert and Frances Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough (Mr and Mrs Andrews, c.1750; National Gallery, London).

Gainsborough and Andrews would have met as children as both reputedly attended Sudbury grammar school and Andrews would have known his schoolmate's work through the double portrait of William Carter and his wife (c.1746; Tate collection) that was hanging in Sudbury at the time. The artist had recently returned to Sudbury after a decade in London and the commission from Robert Andrews marked their re-acquaintance. Given its detailed subject matter the portrait, must have been the subject of intense discussion.

Robert and Frances Andrews are shown posed beneath an oak tree (which still exists) in the park at their estate, The Auberies, a hundred yards to the south-east of the house looking towards Cornard Wood on the Suffolk side of the Stour valley. The Auberies in Essex sits high above the valley, and shown on the extreme left of the painting is the eighteenth-century tower of Holy Trinity, Long Melford, that was rebuilt by the architect George Frederick Bodley in 1900. To the right of the oak the trees part to reveal the tower of All Saints', Sudbury, where the couple had been married, and further to the right, on the Essex side of the river, are thatched barns at Ballingdon Hall and chalk pits at Middleton. Robert Andrews is shown wearing hunting dress, holding a gun with a hound at his side; his wife sits on what is probably a bent-wood garden seat of elaborate rococo design, and she wears an informal blue silk panniered skirt and matching jacket. The seed in the well-formed furrows on the right was probably planted by 'spraining' by hand rather than using a seed drill. Whatever the method the yield appears good, with ripe corn stooks regimented in the field, and beyond a flock of sheep are enclosed behind a hurdle fence. The agricultural activities shown in the painting, including Mr Andrews's shooting (the blank space on his wife's lap is best interpreted as a dead pheasant), show the scope of the estate during the year and the painting affirms Robert Andrews's right to the land by virtue of diligence and industry.

Robert Andrews's high standards were noted by the Revd Onley of Stisted Hall, Essex, and by the agricultural writer Arthur Young who, in June 1784, considered him to be 'one of the most careful and practical farmers I have any where met with'. Young encouraged Andrews to contribute articles to his newly established journal, Annals of Agriculture, as, he opined, 'whatever comes from his pen … deserves the highest attention' (Young, 2.32–3). In 1785 Andrews wrote four articles including 'On the profit of farming' and 'On the smut in wheat'.

Robert and Frances Andrews had six daughters and three sons, born between 1751 and 1769. Frances died on 22 October 1780 and her death is commemorated by a touching memorial tablet in St Andrew's Church, Bulmer. Robert Andrews and his second wife, Mary—about whom no further details are known—had no further children. Robert Andrews died on 20 May 1806 and was buried with his first wife in St Andrew's Church, Bulmer. He was survived by his second wife. Following his death the estate was sold and the proceeds divided between his children. The Christies sale catalogue described the estate as 'admirably disposed for the Purposes of Agriculture, which is very skilfully practiced' (Essex RO, B785).

The double portrait of Mr and Mrs Andrews was not published until 1900 and it was first exhibited at Gainsborough's bicentenary exhibition, held at Ipswich in 1927. The then owner, G. W. Andrews, was a generous lender and the painting featured in many exhibitions subsequently. It came to be regarded as the perfect synergy between portraiture and landscape, and the quintessential English painting showing great delicacy, charm, and freshness devoid of any pretence. The politician and art collector Sir Philip Sassoon sent the sitters' descendants a blank cheque every Christmas in the hope that they could be persuaded to part with the canvas. Some years after Sassoon's death it was offered at auction. The London dealers Agnew's, on behalf of the American collector Paul Mellon, bought the painting for £130,000 (then the world record price for a British painting) at Sothebys on 23 March 1960 and after an export stop it was purchased by the National Gallery, London. Since then it has become one of the best known, and most admired, of all British paintings. In 1972, in his BBC television programme Ways of Seeing, the art critic John Berger added a 'Trespassers. Keep Out' sign fixed to the oak tree above the sitters' heads. Subsequently the painting has often been used as the basis for political cartoons on the subject of ‘nimbyism’.

Sources

  • J. Egerton, National Gallery catalogues: the British school (1998), 80–87
  • J. Bensusan-Butt, ‘The Carters and the Andrews’, Gainsborough's House Review (1992–3), 33–7
  • A. Cooper, Our mother earth (1998), vi–xxii
  • ‘Particulars of a freehold estate called Auberies…’, Christies sale catalogue, 25 Sept 1806, Essex RO, B785
  • A. Young, ed., Annals of agriculture and other useful arts, 46 vols. (1784–1815), 2 (1784), 32–3; 4 (1785), 47–8, 114–16, 252–8; 6 (1786), 173–5
  • will, Robert Andrews; deeds to Bulmer rectory, Essex RO, D/DB T1817
  • will, William Carter, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/784/155
  • will, Martha Andrews, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/777/216
  • will, Robert Andrews, senior, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/687/242

Archives

  • Essex RO, will, Robert Andrews; deeds to Bulmer rectory, D/DB T1817

Likenesses

  • T. Gainsborough, group portrait, oils ('Mr and Mrs Andrews'), National Gallery, London [see illus.]
  • portrait, pastel, priv. coll., on loan to Gainsborough's House, Sudbury
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
Essex Record Office