Thomas Gainsborough: Wikis


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Thomas Gainsborough
Self-portrait, painted 1759
Birth name Thomas Gainsborough
Born 14 May 1727(1727-05-14) (baptised)
Sudbury, Suffolk, England
Died 2 August 1788 (aged 61)
Nationality English
Field Painter
Works Mr and Mrs Andrews
The Blue Boy

Thomas Gainsborough (christened 14 May 1727 – 2 August 1788) was a British portrait and landscape painter.


Life and work



Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk, England. His father was a weaver involved with the wool trade. At the age of thirteen he impressed his father with his penciling skills so that he let him go to London to study art in 1740. In London he first trained under engraver Hubert Gravelot but eventually became associated with William Hogarth and his school. One of his mentors was Francis Hayman. In those years he contributed to the decoration of what is now the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children and the supper boxes at Vauxhall Gardens.

In the 1740s, Gainsborough married Margaret Burr, an illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Beaufort, who settled a £200 annuity on the couple. The artist's work, then mainly composed of landscape paintings, was not selling very well. He returned to Sudbury in 1748–1749 and concentrated on the painting of portraits.

In 1752, he and his family, now including two daughters, moved to Ipswich. Commissions for personal portraits increased, but his clientele included mainly local merchants and squires. He had to borrow against his wife's annuity.


The Blue Boy (1770). The Huntington, California.

In 1759, Gainsborough and his family moved to Bath. There, he studied portraits by van Dyck and was eventually able to attract a better-paying high society clientele. In 1761, he began to send work to the Society of Arts exhibition in London (now the Royal Society of Arts, of which he was one of the earliest members); and from 1769 on, he submitted works to the Royal Academy's annual exhibitions. He selected portraits of well-known or notorious clients in order to attract attention. These exhibitions helped him acquire a national reputation, and he was invited to become one of the founding members of the Royal Academy in 1769. His relationship with the academy, however, was not an easy one and he stopped exhibiting his paintings there in 1773.


In 1774, Gainsborough and his family moved to London to live in Schomberg House, Pall Mall. In 1777, he again began to exhibit his paintings at the Royal Academy, including portraits of contemporary celebrities, such as the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland. Exhibitions of his work continued for the next six years.

Mr and Mrs William Hallett (1785).

In 1780, he painted the portraits of King George III and his queen and afterwards received many royal commissions. This gave him some influence with the Academy and allowed him to dictate the manner in which he wished his work to be exhibited. However, in 1783, he removed his paintings from the forthcoming exhibition and transferred them to Schomberg House.

In 1784, royal painter Allan Ramsay died and the King was obliged to give the job to Gainsborough's rival and Academy president, Joshua Reynolds. Gainsborough remained the Royal Family's favorite painter, however. At his own express wish, he was buried at St. Anne's Church, Kew, where the Family regularly worshipped.

In his later years, Gainsborough often painted relatively simple, ordinary landscapes. With Richard Wilson, he was one of the originators of the eighteenth-century British landscape school; though simultaneously, in conjunction with Joshua Reynolds, he was the dominant British portraitist of the second half of the 18th century.

He died of cancer on 2 August 1788 at the age of 61 and is interred at Kew Parish Church, Surrey (located in Kew Gardens). He is buried next to Francis Bauer, the famous botanical illustrator.


Mrs Thomas Hibbert. Neue Pinakothek.

Gainsborough was noted for the speed with he applied his paint, and he worked more from his observations of nature (and of human nature) than from any application of formal academic rules. The poetic sensibility of his paintings caused Constable to say, "On looking at them, we find tears in our eyes and know not what brings them." He himself said, "I'm sick of portraits, and wish very much to take my viol-da-gam and walk off to some sweet village, where I can paint landskips (sic) and enjoy the fag end of life in quietness and ease."

His most famous works, such as Portrait of Mrs. Graham; Mary and Margaret: The Painter's Daughters; William Hallett and His Wife Elizabeth, nee Stephen, known as The Morning Walk; and Cottage Girl with Dog and Pitcher, display the unique individuality of his subjects.

Gainsborough's only known assistant was his nephew, Gainsborough Dupont. In the last year of his life he collaborated with John Hoppner in painting a full length portrait of Charlotte, Countess Talbot.

In fiction

Gallery of selected works

See also

Further reading

  • Thomas Gainsborough’s 'Lost' Portrait of Auguste Vestri, Martin Postle
  • The Letters of Thomas Gainsborough (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies), John Hayes

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Thomas Gainsborough. Self portrait c.1759

Thomas Gainsborough (baptised 1727-05-14; died 1788-08-02) was one of the most famous portrait and landscape painters of 18th century Britain.


  • ..this picture [Cornard Wood] was actually painted in Sudbury, begun before I left school, and was the means of my father's sending me to London.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH (1727-1788), English painter, one of the greatest masters of the English school in portraiture, and only less so in landscape, was born at Sudbury, Suffolk, in the spring of 1727. His father, who carried on the business of a woollen crape-maker in that town, was of a respectable character and family, and was noted for his skill in fencing; his mother excelled in flower-painting, and encouraged her son in the use of the pencil. There were nine children of the marriage, two of the painter's brothers being of a very ingenious turn.

At ten years old, Gainsborough "had sketched every fine tree and picturesque cottage near Sudbury," and at fourteen, having filled his task-books with caricatures of his schoolmaster, and sketched the portrait of a man whom he had detected on the watch for robbing his father's orchard, he was allowed to follow the bent of his genius in London, with some instruction in etching from Gravelot, and under such advantages as Hayman, the historical painter, and the academy in St Martin's Lane could afford. Three years of study in the metropolis, where he did some modelling and a few landscapes, were succeeded by two years in the country. Here he fell in love with Margaret Burr, a young lady of many charms, including an annuity of X 200, married her after painting her portrait, and a short courtship, and, at the age of twenty, became a householder in Ipswich, his rent being 6 a year. The annuity was reported to come from Margaret's real (not her putative) father, who was one of the exiled Stuart princes or else the duke of Bedford. She was sister of a young man employed by Gainsborough's father as a traveller. At Ipswich, Gainsborough tells us, he was "chiefly in the face-way"; his sitters were not so numerous as to prevent him from often rambling with his friend Joshua Kirby (president of the Society of Artists) on the banks of the Orwell, from painting many landscapes with an attention to details which his later works never exhibited, or from joining a musical club and entertaining himself and his fellow-townsmen by giving concerts. As he advanced in years he became ambitious of advancing in reputation. Bath was then the general resort of wealth and fashion, and to that city, towards the close of the year 175 9, he removed with his wife and two daughters, the only issue of their marriage. His studio in the circus was soon thronged with visitors; he gradually raised his price for a half-length portrait from 5 to 40 guineas, and for a whole-length from 8 to loo guineas; and he rapidly developed beyond the comparatively plain and humdrum quality of his Ipswich paintings. Among his sitters at this period were the authors Sterne and Richardson, and the actors Quin, Henderson and Garrick. Meanwhile he contributed both portraits and landscapes to the annual exhibitions in London. He indulged his taste for music by learning to play the viol-di-gamba, the harp, the hautboy, the violoncello. His house harboured Italian, German, French and English musicians. He haunted the green-room of Palmer's theatre, and painted gratuitously the portraits of many of the actors: he constantly gave away his sketches and landscapes. In the summer of 1774, having already attained a position of great prosperity, he took his departure for London, and fixed his residence at Schomberg House, Pall Mall, a noble mansion still standing, for a part of which the artist paid boo a year.

Gainsborough had not been many months in London ere he received a summons to the palace, and to the end of his career he divided with West the favour of the court, and with Reynolds the favour of the town. Sheridan, Burke, Johnson, Franklin, Canning, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Mrs Siddons, Clive, Blackstone, Hurd, were among the number of those who sat to him. But in London as in Bath his landscapes were exhibited, were commended, and were year after year returned to him, "till they stood," says Sir William Beechey, "ranged in long lines from his hall to his painting-room." Gainsborough was a member of the Royal Academy, one of the original 36 elected in 1768; but in 1784, being dissatisfied with the position assigned on the exhibition walls to his portrait of the three princesses, he withdrew that and his other pictures, and he never afterwards exhibited there. Even before this he had taken no part in the business of the Institution. After seceding he got up an exhibition in his own house, not successfully. In February 1788, while witnessing the trial of Warren Hastings, he felt an extraordinary chill at the back of his neck; this was the beginning of a cancer (or, as some say, a malignant wen) which proved fatal on the 2nd of August of the same year. He lies buried at Kew.

Gainsborough was tall, fair and handsome, generous, impulsive to the point of capriciousness, easily irritated, not of bookish likings, a lively talker, good at repartee. He was a most thorough embodiment of the artistic temperament; delighting in nature and "the look of things," insatiable in working, fond of music and the theatre hardly less than of painting - a warm, rich personality, to whom severe principle was perhaps as foreign as deliberate wrong-doing. The property which he left at his death was not large. One of his daughters, Mary, had married the musician Fischer contrary to his wishes, and was subject to fits of mental aberration. The other daughter, Margaret, died unmarried. Mrs Gainsborough, an extremely sweet-tempered woman, survived her husband ten years. There is a pretty anecdote that Gainsborough, if he ever had a tiff with her, would write a pacifying note, confiding it to his dog Fox, who delivered it to the lady's pet spaniel Tristram. The note was worded as in the person of Fox to Tristram, and Mrs Gainsborough replied in the best of humours, as from Tristram to Fox.

Gainsborough and Reynolds rank side by side as the greatest portrait-painters of the English school. They were at variance; but Gainsborough on his death-bed sought and obtained a reconciliation. It is difficult to say which stands the higher of the two, although Reynolds may claim to have worked with a nearer approach to even and demonstrable excellence. In grace, spirit, and lightness of insight and of touch, Gainsborough is peculiarly eminent. His handling was slight for the most part, and somewhat arbitrary, but in a high degree masterly; and his landscapes and rustic compositions are not less gifted than his portraits. Among his finest works are portraits of "Lady Ligonier," "Georgiana, duchess of Devonshire," "Master Buttall (the Blue Boy)," now in Grosvenor House, "Mrs Sheridan and Mrs Tickell," "Orpin, the parish clerk" (National Gallery), "the Hon. Mrs Graham" (Scottish National Gallery), his own portrait (Royal Academy), "Mrs Siddons" (National Gallery); also "the Cottage Door," "the Market Cart," "the Return from Harvest," "the Woodman and his Dog in a Storm" (destroyed by fire), and "Waggon and Horses passing a Brook" (National Gallery - this was a favourite with its painter). He made a vast number of drawings and sketches.

A few observations may be added: (I) as to individual works by Gainsborough, and (2) as to his general characteristics as a painter.

Two of his first portraits, executed when he was settled at Ipswich, were separate likenesses of Mr and Mrs Hingeston. His first great hit was made at Bath with a portrait of Lord Nugent. With a likeness of Mr Poyntz, 1762, we find a decided advance in artistic type, and his style became fixed towards 1768. The date of the "Blue Boy" is somewhat uncertain: most accounts name 1779, but perhaps 1770 is nearer the mark. This point is not without interest for dilettanti; because it is said that Gainsborough painted the picture with a view to confuting a dictum of Reynolds, to the effect that blue was a colour unsuitable for the main light of a work. But, if the picture was produced before 1778, the date of Reynolds's dictum, this longcherished and often-repeated tradition must be given up. A full-length of the duke of Norfolk was perhaps the latest work to which Gainsborough set his hand. His portrait of Elizabeth, duchess of Devonshire, famous for its long disappearance, has aroused much controversy; whether this painting, produced not long after Gainsborough had settled in London, and termed "the Duchess of Devonshire," does really represent that lady, is by no means certain. It was mysteriously stolen in 1876 in London immediately after it had been purchased by Messrs Agnew at the Wynn Ellis sale at a huge price, and a long time elapsed before it was retraced. The picture was taken to New York, and eventually to Chicago; and in April 1901, through the agency of a man named Pat Sheedy, it was given up to the American detectives working for Messrs Agnew; it was then sold to Mr Pierpont Morgan.

Gainsborough's total output of paintings exceeded 300, including 220 portraits: he also etched at least 18 plates, and 3 in aquatint. At the date of his death 56 paintings remained on hand: these, along with 148 drawings, were then exhibited. In his earlier days he made a practice of copying works by Vandyck (the object of his more special admiration), Titian, Rubens, Teniers, Hobbema, Claude and some others, but not in a spirit of servile reproduction.

Gainsborough was pre-eminent in that very essential element of portraiture - truthful likeness. In process of time he advanced in the rendering of immediate expression, while he somewhat receded in general character. He always made his sitters look pleasant, and, after a while, distinguished. Unity of impression is one of the most marked qualities in his work; he seems to have seen his subject as an integer, and he wrought at the various parts of it together, every touch (and very wilful some of his touches look) tending towards the foreseen result. He painted with arrowy speed, more especially in his later years. For portraits he used at times brushes upon sticks 6 ft. long; there was but little light in his painting-room, and he often worked in the evenings. He kept his landscape work distinct from his portraiture, not ever adding to the latter a fully realized landscape background; his views he never signed or dated - his likenesses only once or twice. His skies are constantly cloudy, the country represented is rough and broken; the scenes are of a pastoral kind, with an effect generally of coming rain, or else of calm sun-setting. The prevalent feeling of his landscapes is somewhat sad, and to children, whether in subjectgroups or in portraits, he mostly lent an expression rather plaintive than mirthful. It should be acknowledged that, whether in portraiture or in landscape, the painter's mannerisms of execution increased in process of time - patchings of the brush, tufty foliage, &c.; some of his portraits are hurried and flimsy, with a minimum of solid content, though not other than artistic in feeling. Here are a few of his axioms: - "What makes the difference between man and man is real performance, and not genius or conception." "I don't think it would be more ridiculous for a person to put his nose close to the canvas and say the colours smelt offensive than to say how rough the paint lies, for one is just as material as the other with regard to hurting the effect and drawing of a picture." "The eye is the only perspective-master needed by a landscape-painter."


In 1788 Philip Thicknesse, Lieutenant-Governor of Landguard Fort, Ipswich, who had been active in promoting the artist's fortunes at starting, published A Sketch of the Life and Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough. He had quarrelled with the painter at Bath, partly because the latter had undertaken to do a portrait of him as a gift, and then neglected the work, and finally, in a huff, bundled it off only half done. The crucial question here is whether or not Gainsborough was reasonably pledged to perform any such gratuitous work, and this point has been contested. Thicknesse's book is in part adverse to Gainsborough, and more particularly so to his wife. Reynolds's "Lecture" on Gainsborough, replete with critical insight, should never be lost sight of as a leading document. In 1856 a heedfully compiled Life of Thomas Gainsborough was brought out by T. W. Fulcher. This was the first substantial work about him subsequent to Allan Cunningham's lively account (1829) in his Lives of the Painters. Of late years a great deal has been written, mainly but not by any means exclusively from the critical or technical point of view: - Sir Walter Armstrong (two works, 1896 and 1898); Mrs Arthur Bell (1902); Sir W. M. Conway, Artistic Development of Reynolds and Gainsborough (1886); Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower (1903); G. M. Brock-Arnold (1881).

G. Pauli has brought out an illustrated work in Germany (1904) under the title Gainsborough. (W. M. R.)

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File:Thomas Gainsborough by Thomas
Self-portrait, painted 1759

Thomas Gainsborough (14 May 1727 – 2 August 1788) was an 18th-century English portrait and landscape painter. He was born in Sudbury, Suffolk, England. He was the youngest son of John Gainsborough. When he was 13, he surprised his father by how well he drew with the pencil. Impressed, his father let him go to London to study art in 1740. In the 1740s, Gainsborough married Margaret Burr and began painting portraits more than landscapes. He had two daughters. In 1774, Gainsborough and his family moved to London.[1] In 1780, he painted portraits of King George III. He died on 2 August 1788 when he was 61 years old because of cancer.

In painting portraits he sometimes painted with brushes on sticks six feet long.[2][3] This put him at the same distance from subject and canvas, set at right angles to each other.[4]



Other websites

NAME Gainsborough, Thomas
DATE OF BIRTH 14 May 1727
PLACE OF BIRTH Sudbury, Suffolk, England
DATE OF DEATH 2 August 1788


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