The Portrait of Thomas Hibbert is one of Thomas Gainsborough's late major works. It was painted in the mid-1780s, when the artist lived in London and was the preferred portrait painter of London society alongside Joshua Reynolds. The sitter's casual posture shows grace and naturalness, which is further emphasised by the landscape - one looks into English nature with hills, trees and bushes as well as a pond in the background. The elegant, fashionable clothing, the red coat and the wide-brimmed hat the sitter is holding in his hand show both cosmopolitanism and a sense of style. The finely graduated pastel tones of the face and the lightly powdered hair show the masterly execution that is characteristic of Gainsborough's best portraits.
Thomas Hibbert (1744-1819) came from a merchant family in the north of England that had achieved wealth and influence in the course of the 18th century. They owed their economic and social rise over several generations to trade relations in the Caribbean and thus also to the slave economy. Thomas Hibbert worked in the business of his uncle of the same name in Kingston, Jamaica, from 1766 to 1780, returned to England after his death and led a rather secluded life. He acquired the country estate of Chalfont Park in Buckinghamshire, which he had remodelled by Humphry Repton and John Nash. In 1784 he married Sophia Boldero (1760-1827), who came from a London banking family. The country house and the two portraits that the couple had painted by Gainsborough soon after the wedding attest to their membership of the educated and wealthy English upper class. The couple separated as early as 1796, with each spouse keeping the other's portrait.