Press Release


Tate Britain  Level 2
24 October 2002 – 19 January 2003

In October 2002, Tate Britain mounts an exhibition of the work of one of the greatest of all British painters, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788). An artist with a truly international reputation, Gainsborough has long been admired for the sophistication and elegance of his art, and the inventiveness and complexity of his techniques.

This exhibition will present Gainsborough as an artist whose work, while charming and engaging, is also intellectually rewarding and vibrant. In an era of increasing tensions in the British art world, dominated by the theory-led practice of Reynolds and the Royal Academy, Gainsborough’s art provided a vigorous alternative. In being concerned with visual pleasures and material realities rather than abstract theory, Gainsborough was vitally engaged with the society of his time. His dynamic response to the world around him and inventive approach to picture-making remain extraordinarily appealing today.

The exhibition will bring together the most comprehensive group of works by this artist ever gathered, including paintings and drawings from public and private collections in Britain, Europe, America and Australia, with exceptional loans from the National Gallery, London, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Huntington in San Marino, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Alongside some of the most iconic images in British art, the selection will include many lesser-known pieces, some being seen in Britain for the first time in living memory, such as the magnificent portraits of Lord and Lady Ligonier from the Huntington, San Marino, and the extraordinary The Hon. Wolfran Cornwall 1785-6, from the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. These will demonstrate the sheer range, quality and originality of Gainsborough’s art - the glamour of his portraits, the touching sensibility of his images of children, and the engaging naturalism of his landscapes.

At the physical and conceptual heart of the exhibition will be an extended gallery presenting a selection of the major works Gainsborough exhibited in London in his lifetime. This spectacular procession of glamorous full-length portraits and grand landscapes will give the visitor a sense of how the artist wished to see his career unfold. The emergence of exhibitions from 1760 was a key element of the modernisation of the British art world. This selection will make clear how the new intellectual and physical contexts of the art exhibitions helped shape many of the artist’s most important works, including The Harvest Wagon 1767 (Barber Institute, Birmingham), the portrait of Carl Friedrich Abel 1777 (The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, San Marino) and The Linley Sisters 1772 (Dulwich Picture Gallery, London).

Alongside the central gallery of publicly exhibited works, a series of displays will explore aspects of his art in depth. Major works, including Mr and Mrs Andrews 1748-50 (National Gallery, London), Mrs Sheridan 1785-7 (National Gallery of Art, Washington) and Evening Landscape c.1768-71 (Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, London) will form the centrepieces of displays looking at the themes of, for example, Landscape and the Poor, Sensibility, and Portraiture and Fashion. Works by other artists will be included here to enrich our understanding and appreciation of Gainsborough’s art, including paintings by Allan Ramsay and Joseph Wright of Derby, caricatures, and examples of the work of the old masters admired by Gainsborough .

The exhibition is curated by Michael Rosenthal, author of The Art of Thomas Gainsborough (1999) and Martin Myrone, Curator, Tate Britain. A fully-illustrated catalogue will be published to coincide with the exhibition (272pp, £29.99). A symposium, Gainsborough and the Birth of Modernity, takes place at Tate Britain on 6 December, 10.30-18.30, tickets £25 (£20 concessions), call Tate Ticketing 020 7887 8888.

Open daily 10.00-17.40 Last admission 17.00