Thomas Gainsborough

Thomas Gainsborough (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 Gravelot. He was also influenced in his youth by the painter Francis Hayman 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 Reynolds. Gainsborough is celebrated for the elegance, vivacity, and refinement of his portraits, which were greatly influenced in style by the work of Van Dyck. 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).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Gainsborough
Ellis Waterhouse.
E. Hulton, 1958
Thomas Gainsborough: Artist of a Changing World: Michael Rosenthal and Martin Myrone Look beyond the Traditional View of Gainsborough and Argue for a View of the Painter beyond That of Society Portraitist, as a Modernist Responding to the Broader Themes of His Times. (Gainsborough)
Rosenthal, Michael; Myrone, Martin.
History Today, Vol. 52, No. 11, November 2002
A Century of British Painters
Samuel Redgrave; Richard Redgrave.
Phaidon Press, 1947
Librarian’s tip: Includes a chapter on Thomas Gainsborough
Painting in Britain, 1530 to 1790
Ellis Waterhouse.
Penguin Books, 1953
Librarian’s tip: Includes a chapter on Thomas Gainsborough
Painter Conveys Rich Personality; British Artist Thomas Gainsborough Painted Some of the Most Remarkable Faces Ever Recorded on Canvas-Images Now on View at the National Gallery of Art. (the Nation: The Arts)
Goode, Stephen.
Insight on the News, Vol. 19, No. 7, March 18, 2003
FREE! Old English Masters
John C. Van Dyke.
The Century Co., 1902
Librarian’s tip: Includes a chapter on Thomas Gainsborough
Gainsborough's House
Cavendish, Richard.
History Today, Vol. 45, No. 10, October 1995
Letters of the Great Artists: From Ghiberti to Gainsborough
Richard Friedenthal.
Random House, 1963
A Book of British Etching: From Francis Barlow to Francis Seymour Haden
Walter Shaw Sparrow.
John Lane The Bodley Head Limited, 1926
FREE! How to Study Pictures
Charles H. Caffin.
Century, 1906
Librarian’s tip: Includes "Sir Joshua Reynolds- Thomas Gainsborough"
The Outline of Literature
John Drinkwater; William Orpen.
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1923
Librarian’s tip: Includes "The Art of Gainsborough, Romney, Raeburn, Hoppner, and Lawrence"
Gainsborough's Vision
Amal Asfour; Paul Williamson.
Liverpool University Press, 1999
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