About this artwork

John Gay was an English poet and dramatist. Born at Barnstaple in Devon, Gay was raised by his uncle after the death of his parents. He was apprenticed to a silk merchant, but disliked the work and started to write and publish poetry. He soon found his way into literary circles and acquired influential friends, including the poet Alexander Pope and Irish writer Jonathan Swift. His most famous work is ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ (1728), several scenes of which were later painted by William Hogarth. Its sequel, ‘Polly’ (1729), was banned because of its criticism of Prime Minister Robert Walpole. The diagonal canvas weave in this portrait is now very visible.

Updated before 2020

  • artist:
    William AikmanScottish (1682 - 1731)
  • title:
    John Gay, 1685 - 1732. Poet and dramatist
  • date created:
    About 1720
  • materials:
    Oil on canvas
  • measurements:
    48.90 x 36.80 cm; Framed: 60.90 x 49.50 x 6.50 cm
  • object type:
  • credit line:
    Given by the Royal Scottish Academy 1910
  • accession number:
    PG 718
  • gallery:
  • depicted:
  • photographer:
    Antonia Reeve
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William Aikman

William Aikman