Thomas Gainsborough
The Housemaid c.1782–6

Artwork details

Thomas Gainsborough 1727–1788
The Housemaid
Date c.1782–6
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 2349 x 1486 mm
Acquisition Presented by Rosalind, Countess of Carlisle 1913
Not on display

Display caption

The large format of this unfinished painting would normally be used for grand portraits of the rich or famous, instead of the working-class woman shown here. In fact, there is a tradition that the woman is the wealthy Hon Mrs Graham in fancy dress.  

Whether it is a fancy-dress portrait or a depiction of a working woman, the painting raises some intriguing questions. Does it simply pander to fantasies of dignified poverty or encourage true sympathy for ordinary people? Is this a kind of voyeuristic ‘pin-up’, or a powerful image of a real social type?

September 2004

About this artwork