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 Thomas Gainsborough  (1727 - 1788)

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom      Known for: portrait and landscape painting

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Ad Code: 1
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from Auction House Records.
Portrait of Mrs. William Villebois, full-length, in masquerade dress, with a blue gown and a lace-edged satin skirt, holding a diaphanous wrap, beside a pilaster
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Thomas Gainsborough was born in 1727 in Sudbury, in the County of Suffolk, England. His mother was an accomplished flower painter. Gainsborough made little progress at grammer school, where he spent most of his time sketching. At the age of fifteen he was sent to London where he studied under the French engraver Gravelot. A few years later at Gravelot's instigation he was admitted into the Martin Lane Academy where he studied under the historical painter Francis Hayman.

In 1745 he returned to Sudbury and Ipswich, and in 1760 rose to fame as a portrait painter in the fashionable resort town of Bath. Gainsborough joined the Royal Academy as a founding member and in 1774 he returned to London, where he became Reynold's major competitor. In 1783 he disagreed with the Council of the Royal Academy, withdrew his pictures and never exhibited there again.

Gainsborough and Reynolds were rivals in their own time. Occasionally their portraits have a certain outer resemblance, largely because they both painted their subjects in the same fashionable costumes. But Gainsborough was as impulsive and unreasoning as Reynolds was cool and intellectual, so although they respected each other's work the two could scarcely have been friends.

Gainsborough was the most sought-after artist of his time. His fees were large and his talents were incontestable. He was a master at striking an attractive and if necessary, flattering likeness. He was too individual a genius to inspire many followers. Before he was aware of the Roman or Dutch landscape painters, he had spent hours as a boy sketching his own Suffolk countryside. If it had not been necessary to paint portraits to make his living, he would gladly have devoted himself to landscape painting and he never lost his interest in this form of art.

Although he claimed to prefer landscapes, he could not sell them. He painted so many portraits that he had become fed up with them. He longed for the freedom of painting landscapes, which he could do with quietness and ease. He did not paint on location, but composed in his studio using a kind of model. But when he died in 1788 his studio was cluttered with unsold landscapes.

Compiled and submitted August 2004 by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California

Sources include:
"Metropolitan Museum of Art Miniatures: Masterpieces in the Philadelphia Museum of Art"
New York World's Fair 1940: "Masterpieces of Art" Catalogue
"Time Magazine", July 5, 1963.

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