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Thomas Gainsborough, Conversation In a Park

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Gainsborough, Thomas 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.).

Used with permission. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Copyright © 2001 Columbia University Press