Illustrated companion

In his early years in London in the 1740s Gainshorough seems to have been known only as a landscape painter and by 1748 his talent was already sufficiently noted for Hogarth to commission a small landscape from him. On his return to Suffolk, after his marriage in 1746, Gainsborough became primarily a portrait painter, but he continued to paint landscapes even though he often could not find a buyer for them. After he became a great fashionable success as a portrait painter in Bath from 1759, landscape painting, together with music, became even more important to him as a relaxation from the pressures of his portrait practice: 'I'm sick of Portraits and wish very much to take my Viol da Gamba [cello] and walk off to some sweet village where I can paint Landskips and enjoy the fag end of life in quietness and ease. But these fine Ladies and their Tea drinkings, Dancings, Husband huntings and such will fob me out of the last ten years ...' This is in a letter to his friend, William Jackson, who gave him music lessons in return for lessons in drawing 'Wooded Landscape' is one of Gainsborough's early Suffolk landscapes, when he was still painting in a naturalistic vein developed from the combination of his love of Suffolk and his admiration for Dutch seventeenth-century landscape. It looks extremely natural, but in fact the composition is highly ordered, with a central path between two balanced masses of trees leading the eye to the sunlit landscape beyond. In the last year of his life Gainshorough remarked in a letter on the subject of his early landscapes: 'the touch and closeness to nature in the study of the parts and minutiae are equal to any of my latter productions'. Of particular note in 'Wooded Landscape' is the variety of different greens that Gainshorough has observed and taken the trouble accurately to represent, and the equally careful observation of the pattern of light and shade in the landscape and how this corresponds to the pattern of light and cloud in the sky. Half a century later the landscape of Suffolk was to be the inspiration of John Constable, who famously remarked 'Tis a most delightfull country for a landscape painter. I fancy I see Gainshorough in every hedge and hollow tree.'

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.40