Daily News Online

Wednesday, 26 May 2010



He turned around British art

It was not Reynolds nor Constable but Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88) who was responsible to make British art significant.

When Italian and French Masters were dazzling, the British looked poor relatives lagging behind. The wide between the painters were apparent and however much the British painters surfaced, they were not a match. Given and taken, wide strides were achieved with the coming of Gainsborough. Though there were other English Masters who gained wider reputation than Gainsborough, it was his art that shaped a magnificent effect on British art.

John Constable found his work gentle and tender which made him declare 'The spirit of Gainsborough's memory are in every hedge and ditch of Suffolk'.

A great tribute from another great Master.

Gainsborough drew upon the diverse influence particularly landscape to create his personal vision of the English and their countryside. But he was probably the best loved British portraitist the bequeathed England with a glittering record of the 18th century society.

The youngest greatest nine siblings, his origin as a son of a Suffolk cloth merchant was less than exalted. After studying in London, Gainsborough set himself up as a portraitist in his native country. However, this was after he made a name in the fashionable city of Bath as a successor to Van Dyek. His return to London was also considered as a challenge to the supremacy of Reynolds. All his life, he preferred landscape to portraiture but his amazing achievement in this area, sealed him as one of the greatest portrait painters in the world to date.

He started painting at thirteen under reputed painters such as French Hubert Gravelot and English Francis Hayman. His first exhibited works were in 1745. He set up his studio at Hatton Garden where he sold his landscapes. He also supplemented his meagre income with restoration of 17th century Dutch paintings of Ruisdaol and Wynants, the Dutch masters.


In 1746, he contracted a secret marriage with Margert Burr, the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Beaufort. She proved a very difficult woman to live with and who caused Gainsborough to keep the prices of his paintings a secret from her. They had two daughters-Mary and Margeret who both shared their father's excellent temperaments. He was extremely fond of them and often used them as models for some of the masterpieces he painted.

He returned to Sudbury two years after his marriage, when his father died. He moved Over to Suffolk and lived for seven years. It was during this time that Gainsborough's talents blossomed remarkably. Move to Bath in 1759 was significant in his life as his fortunes changed overnight. There were a influx of wealthy visitors to Bath who commissioned him. Gainsborough himself was overwhelmed by his fortunes and popularity as he and his family lived in luxury. He was in a position to move into a fashionable house close to the Royal crescent. With this, he managed to gain access to private collections of his wealthy and influential patrons. At Wilton, he saw the Earl of Pembroke's collection of Van Dycks. Back in London in 1774 he felt confident to compete with any artist. However, Reynolds was knighted but titles and honours meant very little to him as he outstripped him in popularity. He became the royal favourite though he never became the King's Painter. His success continued unabated as he became a wealthy man. He owned a coach and invested in the Government.


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