Thomas Gainsborough RA (1727-1788)

Gainsborough is credited as being the founder of the true English School of painting. Born in Sudbury, he came to London aged 14 to pursue art, studying first under the engraver Gravelot, and then under the painter Francis Hayman. During this period, he copied diligently from Dutch paintings, an influence discernible in some of his paintings. After failing to do well as a painter in London, he returned to Sudbury, marrying Miss Francis Burr, who had modelled for him, and then settling in Ipswich in 1746. However, in 1760 they moved to Bath, favoured at the time by fashionable portait painters. Then, in 1774, his reputation now high, they went to live in Pall Mall, London.

Gainsborough excelled in both landscape (where he was considered to rival Richard Wilson) and in portraiture, where he rivalled Reynolds. He was a founder member of the Royal Academy in 1768, and through to 1783 he showed nearly a hundred pictures there, until in 1784 he disputed with the Academy over the hanging of one of his pictures (not the last to have such a disagreement!) and ceased to exhibit there. After his death, Reynolds, President of the Academy, devoted one of his famous discourses to the 'Character of Gainsborough'.

Gainsborough's works are well distributed, and can be seen in various provincial museums as well as the largest centres. In the Tate Gallery is Mrs Portman, considered among his best early portraits, and a somewhat Rubinesque The Watering Place, one of his most important landscapes. Another major landscape is The Harvest Wagon (1767) at the Barber Institute in Birmingham. Another is at Bath, where Barker of Bath was one of the most faithful followers of Gainsborough. Further portraits by Gainsborough may be seen in the Wallace Collection.

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