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Thomas Gainsborough
(1727-1788)

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Thomas Gainsborough was a British painter, famed for his portraits of fashionable society in the late 18th century and for his landscapes of the English countryside. He was born in Sudbury, Suffolk, and received his artistic training at an early age, probably from the painters Francis Wynantz, Charles Jervas, and Francis Hayman, all of whom were in Suffolk in the 1730s. In about 1740 Gainsborough went to study in London with the noted French draughtsman and engraver Hubert-Francois Gravelot, through whom he was influenced by the style of the famous French Rococo painter Antoine Watteau. 

Nicaragua 1978. Rococo Art. Gainsborough. Mr, and Mrs. Andrews.

One of Gainsborough’s celebrated early works is his portrait of Mr. and Mrs Andrews (c. 1748-1750, National Gallery, London), featuring a wealthy Suffolk landowner and his wife against the background of their estate. 
  • Nicaragua 1978.  Mr. and Mrs. Andrews. 

His other accomplished portraits of this period include that of John Plampin (1753, National Gallery, London), who is shown reclining on a mound with a landscape in the background -- a pose derived from Watteau’s portraits. In 1759 Gainsborough moved to Bath, the fashionable spa town where there were greater opportunities for earning a living as a portrait painter. 

Around the same time he also viewed portraits by Anthony van Dyck at Wilton House in Wiltshire, which were to have a major influence on his work.  

This is seen in the rich colour and delicate, almost feathery brushwork of such portraits of fashionable ladies as Countess Howe (1763-1764, Kenwood House, London), clad in a pink dress; the almost sketch-like brushwork was further exaggerated in later portraits, such as that of the newly married couple in the Morning Walk (1785, National Gallery, London). 

  • Aden-Quaiti State in Hadhramaut 1968.  Gainsborough: Morning Walk (Mr. and Mrs. Haller). This stamp exists also in an imperforate version.

Aden-Quaiti State in Hadhramaut 1968. Rococo Art. Gainsborough. Morning Walk (Mr. and Mrs. Haller).

Gainsborough also continued to paint landscapes: his major work of this period is the Harvest Wagon (c. 1767, Barber Institute, Birmingham), showing a curious scene of a wagon, surrounded by labourers in rags, halted for no apparent reason within a landscape of woodland, tracks, and ponds. Although the figures are derived from various historical sources, such as Deposition by Rubens in Antwerp Cathedral, this painting was a revolutionary work in that it was not a conventional pastoral landscape. 

USSR 1984. Gainsborough: "Lady in Blue". Souvenir sheet. Part of a set of British painters at the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. The label in the middle shows the embossed arms of the museum.

In 1774 Gainsborough moved to London, where he soon gained the patronage of the royal family. Although his portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1781, Gainsborough quarrelled with the academy in 1784, and thereafter exhibited works only in his studio. The 1770s and 1780s, though the late phase of his career, was a period of increasing experimentation in media and subject matter. He developed an interest in the new printmaking techniques of soft-ground etching and aquatint, and also took up landscape painting on glass. His most famous late works are the series of "fancy pictures", depicting the rural poor, of which the most notable are Two Shepherd Boys with Dogs Fighting (exhibited 1783, Kenwood House, London) and Cottage Girl with Dog and Pitcher (1785, Sir Alfred Beit Collection, Russborough). 

Maldives 1977. Rococo Art. Gainsborough. Portrait of Lady Sarah Siddons. Nicaragua 1978. Rococo Art. Gainsborough. Portrait of Giovanna Macelli. Maldives 1977. Rococo Art. Gainsborough. Portrait of the artist's daughter Mary.

Gainsborough had no direct followers except his nephew Gainsborough Dupont, whom he had taken on as an apprentice in 1772, yet his reputation was established with his technical proficiency, elegant portraits, and idealized views of the contemporary English landscape. 

Sources:

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