Thomas Gainsborough

Thomas Gainsborough, RA FRSA ( born May 14, 1727 Sudbury, Suffolk; † August 2, 1788 in London ) was an English painter who especially devoted himself to portraiture and landscape painting. He is, along with William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds as the most important English painters of the 18th century.


Early years

Gainsborough was born the fifth son of a draper John Gainsborough and baptized 14 May 1727. Because his early landscape drawings made ​​an impression in the family circles, his father sent him to London in 1740 to allow the boy to study art. There Gainsborough within Hubert -François Gravelot, Francis Hayman, William Hogarth and other artists of London's St Martin 's Lane Academy held on. Already in 1743 for operation of precocious artists own studio in Hatton Garden. And at age 19, he married Margaret Burr 1746 sixteen year-old, probably an illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Beaufort. In the same year he participated in the decoration of the London Foundling Hospital with paintings.

Moderate success as a landscape and portrait painter

The success as a painter were initially underwhelming. So he had to stay afloat for a while with imitations of Dutch landscape paintings of the 17th century. 1748 he left London and returned to Sudbury. There he painted mainly small-sized portraits of nobles against a landscape background, but still had difficulties in establishing itself as a painter, so he moved in 1752 to Ipswich, where he was primarily in musical circles, but also some portraits and landscapes painted. However, the customer base was limited here, so Gainsborough in 1759 moved into the fashionable city of Bath.

Breakthrough as a painter

At Gainsborough's early supporters among the English Eccentrics Philip Thicknesse, who introduced him to London and Bath in the more genteel social circles. Once belonged to the actor David Garrick and the musician Johann Christian Bach to his friends. 1761 and 1763, the artist took to London art exhibitions with vivid painted portraits of some that are in deliberate contrast to Joshua Reynolds ' historicizing portraits. In general, he retained a certain independence to his portraits and landscapes. Nevertheless, he presented as a founding member, headed by Reynolds Royal Academy of Arts, London, in their first public exhibition in 1768 a portrait of Isabella Lady Molyneux out.

Ambivalent relationship to the President of the Royal Academy of Arts

Gainsborough's relationship with the Royal Academy, with its preference for old continental painting traditions remained split, because his sensualist oriented way of painting the color gave the preference to academic drawing. 1774 moved Gainsborough finally to London, where he established himself as a portraitist, and even received numerous commissions from the English royal family, but was also in constant competition with the Academy President Reynolds, because he prefers sentimental "fancy pictures" in front of rural background and not historical pictures in " grand style " painted. 2 August 1788 Gainsborough dies from cancer.


In his portraits is striking that the Gainsborough Sensitive and casual nature of an artificial and stiff preferred, which is why he let posing against a landscape background his characters not in the studio, but in the great outdoors. A typical example is the portrait of William Hallett and his wife Elizabeth during their Morning Walk ( 1785, London, National Gallery ). These portraits can be seen also as fascinated Gainsborough fabrics and fashion clothes was.

The artist turned early on against a strict academicism and tried in his painting to transform the propagated idealization of subjects in a more subtle way of pictorial representation. For Gainsborough, this could only be achieved on the Sensibility, that is, the viewer should be with him, not only as it was then often customary to capture an image with his angelesenen prior knowledge about the depicted ideal motives, but with personal empathy penetrate into the picture. This sensitivity is clearly in front of a idyllic rural background, especially in his sentimental depictions of poor people, such as in his famous Cottage Girl with Dog and Pitcher ( 1785, Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland ).

Gainsborough's art was influenced by the Dutch artist Jacob Izaaksoon van Ruisdael, Meindert Hobbema and Jan Wijnants, by the Frenchman Antoine Watteau and Jean- Honoré Fragonard ( picturesque characteristic style, landscape background ), Hubert -François Gravelot and Anthony van Dyck, and of Venetian painting.

Although an influence of Gainsborough's conception of nature is to recognize the early landscapes by John Constable, his oeuvre coined otherwise be difficult to sustain the subsequent generations of artists.

Works (selection)

  • The lawyer Joshua Grigby III. (Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Gemäldegalerie, inv. KFMV No. 275 ) to 1760-65, oil on canvas, 127.5 x 102.2 cm
  • Mrs. Siddons ( National Gallery, London, Inv. No. NG 683 ), 1785, oil on canvas, 126 x 99.5 cm
  • Mrs. Thomas Hibbert (Munich, Alte Pinakothek, inv. No. FV4 ), 1786, oil on canvas, 127 x 101.5 cm
  • Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, National Gallery, London, 1749/50
  • The Blue Boy, 1770
  • Cottage Girl with Dog and Pitcher, Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, 1785