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© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Thomas Gainsborough: Selected full-text books and articles

Gainsborough By Ellis Waterhouse E. Hulton, 1958
A Century of British Painters By Richard Redgrave; Samuel Redgrave Phaidon Press, 1947
Librarian's tip: Includes a chapter on Thomas Gainsborough
Painting in Britain, 1530 to 1790 By Ellis Waterhouse Penguin Books, 1953
Librarian's tip: Includes a chapter on Thomas Gainsborough
FREE! Old English Masters By John C. Van Dyke The Century Co., 1902
Librarian's tip: Includes a chapter on Thomas Gainsborough
FREE! How to Study Pictures By Charles H. Caffin Century, 1906
Librarian's tip: Includes "Sir Joshua Reynolds- Thomas Gainsborough"
The Outline of Literature By William Orpen; John Drinkwater G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1923
Librarian's tip: Includes "The Art of Gainsborough, Romney, Raeburn, Hoppner, and Lawrence"
Gainsborough's Vision By Amal Asfour; Paul Williamson Liverpool University Press, 1999
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.