Room 1: Beginnings: The Early Years

Nature was his teacher, and the Woods of Suffolk his Academy
Obituary, Gentleman’s Magazine (1788)

Gainsborough William Wollaston about 1759

William Wollaston
about 1759
Oil on canvas

Ipswich Borough Council
Museums and Galleries

This room introduces Thomas Gainsborough through the work of his youth and early maturity. Gainsborough spent his teenage years in London, where he associated with Hogarth, Hayman and other artists at the St Martin’s Lane Academy. Their modern and democratic outlook was a crucial influence, apparent in the informality of his portraits and the innovative naturalism of his landscapes.

After his years in London, Gainsborough struggled to make a living as a painter in Sudbury and Ipswich. His portraits tended to be witty, but modest, representing the aspirations and values of genteel Suffolk society. He almost never sold his landscapes. But at the end of the 1750s Gainsborough moved to Bath to further his career. In this cosmopolitan centre of fashion and entertainment, his work achieved a new virtuosity and grandeur.