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Thomas Gainsborough

(1727 - 1788)

Thomas Gainsborough was born in 1727 at Sudbury, Soffolk. He became known throughout his career as an english painter of portraits, landscapes, and fancy pictures (a pastoral genre that featured idealized subjects) and one of the most individual geniuses in British art.

He showed artistic ability at an early age and when he was thirteen, Thomas Gainsborough studied drawing and etching in London with the French engraver Hubert Gravelot. Later he was also influenced by the painters of the Dutch school. In the early part of his career, Gainsborough primarily painted landscapes and worked as a restorer for art dealers.

Although his true desire was to paint landscapes exclusively, portraits were in much greater demand in eighteenth-century England. As a portraitist, he was highly acclaimed and sought after by the English aristocracy for his elegant and flattering portrayals. He developed his painting style by studying the portraits by Anthony Van Dyck.

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.

In 1768 he was elected one of the original members of the Royal Academy, and in 1774 he moved permanently to London. Here he further developed the personal style he had evolved at Bath, working with light and rapid brush-strokes and by cool and fresh colors, chiefly greens and blues, thinly applied. He became a favorite painter of the Royal Family, even though his rival Reynolds was appointed King's Principal Painter.

Gainsborough sometimes said that while portraiture was his profession, landscape painting was his pleasure. Forest scenes, or rough and broken country were the usual subjects of his landscapes. The poetic melancholy induced by faint lighting characterizes his paintings. He sometimes used pencil, charcoal and chalk to produce his etchings and at times varnished his drawings.

Of all the 18th-century English painters, Thomas Gainsborough was the most inventive and original, always prepared to experiment with new ideas and techniques. He died in 1788 and was buried in Kew churchyard.

Movements associated with Thomas Gainsborough:
18th century, Rococo, Romanticism


Art prints by Thomas Gainsborough
The Blue Boy


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