Thomas Gainsborough

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Gainsborough, Thomas

(gānz`bûr'ō), 1727–88, English portrait and landscape painter, b. Sudbury. In 1740 he went to London and became the assistant and pupil of the French engraver Hubert GravelotGravelot, Hubert
, 1699–1772, French engraver. Gravelot was instrumental in introducing the French rococo pictorial tradition to England. The books he illustrated include the works of Shakespeare, Richardson's Pamela, and Fielding's Tom Jones.
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. He was also influenced in his youth by the painter Francis HaymanHayman, Francis,
1708–76, English painter. Influenced by the French rococo style, Hayman painted conversation pieces—landscape scenes peopled by fashionable contemporaries (see portraiture). He also worked as a designer at the Drury Lane Theatre.
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 and studied the landscapes of the great 17th-century Dutch artists. In 1745 he returned to Sudbury, later moving to Ipswich and finally to Bath, where he gradually acquired a large and lucrative portrait practice rivaling that of his contemporary Sir Joshua ReynoldsReynolds, Sir Joshua,
1723–92, English portrait painter, b. Devonshire. Long considered historically the most important of England's painters, by his learned example he raised the artist to a position of respect in England.
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. Gainsborough is celebrated for the elegance, vivacity, and refinement of his portraits, which were greatly influenced in style by the work of Van DyckVan Dyck or Vandyke, Sir Anthony
, 1599–1641, Flemish portrait and religious painter and etcher, b. Antwerp.
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. Some of these portray old-money aristocrats, but more are from the newly wealthy and highly cultured middle-class elite. Gainsborough had little taste for the society of his sitters, however, and spent much spare time painting his favorite subject, landscape, entirely for his own pleasure. These works were among the first great landscapes painted in England. As a colorist Gainsborough has had few rivals among English painters.

In his last years Gainsborough excelled in fancy pictures, a pastoral genre that featured idealized subjects (e.g., The Mall, 1783; Frick Coll., New York City). He painted all parts of his pictures himself, an unusual practice for his day. He left a large collection of landscape drawings, which influenced the development of 19th-century landscape art. He is well represented in the national galleries of London, Ireland, and Scotland; in the Wallace Collection, London; and in many private collections. Examples of Gainsborough's work may be seen in the Metropolitan Museum and the museums of Cincinnati, Boston, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Outstanding among his well-known works are Perdita (Wallace Coll., London), The Blue Boy (Huntington Art Gall., San Marino, Calif.), and Lady Innes (Frick Coll.).


See his letters, ed. by M. Woodall (rev. ed. 1963); his drawings, ed. by J. Hayes (2 vol., 1971) and ed. by J. Hayes and L. Staiton (1985); his prints, ed. by J. Hayes (1972); J. Hayes, Gainsborough's Landscape Paintings: A Critical Text and Catalogue Raisonné (2 vol., 1982); J. Lindsay, Gainsborough: His Life and Art (1983); M. Rothschild, The Life and Art of Thomas Gainsborough (1983).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Gainsborough, Thomas


Baptized May 14, 1727, in Sudbury, Suffolk; died Aug. 2, 1788, in London. English painter and graphic artist.

Gainsborough had no systematic art training, but he studied with the French engraver H. Gravelot in London in the 1740’s. Later he worked in Sudbury, Ipswich (in the 1750’s), Bath (from 1759), and London (from 1774). He ranks with J. Reynolds as one of the most outstanding English portrait painters of the 18th century. He began as a landscape painter, whose very earliest works revealed the qualities of sensitivity and ingenuousness (for example, The Cornard Wood, 1748, National Gallery, London). His early portraits of married couples and country squires are full of a somewhat naive charm against the background of a fresh rural landscape (the portrait Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, 1749, Tate Gallery, London). Gainsborough’s mature work as a portrait painter, which developed under the influence of A. Van Dyck and A. Watteau, is full of inspiration and excitement in its poetic expression of the personal charm of the sitters and their subtlest spiritual qualities. His portraits of women and youths are especially moving and graceful (The Blue Boy, a portrait of J. Buttall, c. 1770, Huntington Gallery, San Marino, Calif.; his portrait of the Duchess de Beaufort, painted in the 1770’s, the Hermitage, Leningrad; Perdita, a portrait of Mrs. Robinson, 1781, Wallace Collection, London; and his portrait of Sarah Siddons, 1784-85, National Gallery, London). Gainsborough’s double portraits are distinguished by intimacy and warmth and successfully portray the profound affinity of close kin (The Painter’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly, c. 1759, and The Morning Walk, a portrait of W. Hallet and his wife, 1785, National Gallery, London). His paintings of peasant children are very lyrical (Rustic Children, 1787, Metropolitan Museum, New York). Gainsborough’s models, regardless of their social position and age, give the viewer the sense that they have rich spiritual lives, inner independence, and unusual characters. The painting technique of Gainsborough’s mature period exhibits a masterly facility, virtuosity, etherealness, and refined tenderness; the dynamic play of minute multicolored brushstrokes invests the paintings with diversity and a breath of real life. Cold blue tones are complemented with iridescent nuances and rich reflections. These qualities also render very lyrical Gainsborough’s rural landscapes, with their soft harmonies and delicate play of light (The Market Cart, 1786, Tate Gallery, London). The landscapes and scenes of peasant life, full of vitality and silvery airiness, hold a major place among Gainsborough’s drawings.


[Kuznetsova, I.] Tomas Geinsboro. Moscow, 1963.
Woodall, M. Thomas Gainsborough: His Life and Work. London, 1949.
Waterhouse, E. K. Gainsborough. [London] 1958.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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