I am daubing away for the Exhibition with all my might
Thomas Gainsborough, letter (March 1771)

All the works in this room were chosen by Gainsborough to be included in one of the new annual art exhibitions which began in London in 1760. These were organised first by the Society of Artists and then by the Royal Academy. Public exhibitions transformed the way painters worked and for the first time created a mass audience for the visual arts.

Gainsborough knew how to make his paintings stand out on the crowded walls of these exhibitions. He chose to display portraits of the famous and glamorous, and large-scale, eye-catching landscapes. But he was often unhappy with the way his paintings were shown. He stopped exhibiting in the mid-1770s and again after 1783. The exhibitions made art into a popular spectacle and artists into celebrities, but Gainsborough ultimately reacted against this trend.