The portrait and landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough was born at Sudbury, Suffolk, the fifth son of a cloth merchant. He was apprenticed at the age of thirteen to a London silversmith, and was taught by Hubert Gravelot, a French book-illustrator. By 1745 he had established his own studio in London. He married Margaret Burr in 1746, and by 1748 had taken up residence in Suffolk. He moved to Ipswich in 1752, and settled at Bath as a portraitist in 1759. He took as an apprentice his nephew, Gainsborough Dupont (1754-97) in 1772. There are no records of any other pupils or assistants. In 1774, established as a fashionable portrait painter, he moved to London, living at Schomberg House, Pall Mall. Despite his great success as a portraitist, he always maintained that he preferred painting landscapes. He wrote to a friend, William Jackson: 'I'm sick of Portraits and wish very much to take my Viol da Gamba and walk off to some sweet Village, where I can paint Landskips and enjoy the fag End of life in quietness and ease' (in Woodall, p.115, no.56).
Gainsborough exhibited at the Society of Artists from 1761 to 1769, and became a foundation member of the Royal Academy in 1768. He first exhibited there the following year, but in 1773 quarrelled with the Academy over the hanging of his pictures, and did not exhibit there again until 1777. In 1784 he again quarrelled with them over the same subject, and never again exhibited at the Academy, instead organising a series of annual exhibitions in his studio at Schomberg House.
He received commissions from the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland in 1777, and from the King and Queen in 1781. He toured the West Country with Gainsborough Dupont in about 1782, and visited the Lake District with Samuel Kilderbee in 1783. Gainsborough died in London after a reconciliation with his great rival Sir Joshua Reynolds, who eulogised him at the Royal Academy, commenting that 'whatever he attempted he carried to a high degree of excellence' (R. Wark, ed., Sir Joshua Reynolds: Discourses on Art, New Haven and London 1975, p.254).
He is buried in Kew Churchyard. A posthumous sale of his pictures and drawings was held at Schomberg House in 1789.
The Tate owns a portrait of the artist by Johann Zoffany (c.1772, Tate Gallery N01487), which is on a long-term loan to the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Ellis Waterhouse, Gainsborough, London 1958, 1966
Mary Woodall (ed.), The Letters of Thomas Gainsborough, revised edition, 1963
John Hayes, Thomas Gainsborough, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1980
John Hayes, The Landscape Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, 2 volumes, London 1982
Thomas Gainsborough (14 May 1727 (baptised) – 2 August 1788) was an English portrait and landscape painter, draughtsman, and printmaker. Along with his rival Sir Joshua Reynolds, he is considered one of the most important British artists of the second half of the 18th century. He painted quickly, and the works of his maturity are characterised by a light palette and easy strokes. Despite being a prolific portrait painter, Gainsborough gained greater satisfaction from his landscapes. He is credited (with Richard Wilson) as the originator of the 18th-century British landscape school. Gainsborough was a founding member of the Royal Academy.
Artist as subject
Film and audio
ListenMark Bills discusses the issues faced in developing Gainsborough’s House given the particular nature of the site and the artist’s …
In his day Kenneth Clark was an influential patron, art historian, collector, gallery director and broadcaster - and one of …
From laden apple trees to yellowing leaves, autumn – ‘the painter's season’ – has inspired generations of aritsts and writers
Fancy picture refers to a type of eighteenth century painting that depict scenes of everyday life but with elements of …
Light, sensuous, intensely decorative French style developed in the early eighteenth century following death of Louis XIV and in reaction …
Intaglio describes any printmaking technique in which the image is produced by incising into the printing plate – the incised …
In FocusResearching Thomas Gainsborough’s Muilman, Crokatt and Keable in a Landscape c.1750
Peter Darnell Muilman, Charles Crokatt and William Keable in a Landscape c.1750, by Thomas Gainsborough
Offering a multi-disciplinary discussion of Gainsborough’s early triple portrait, this project considers the painting as a depiction of polite and …
ReadBodies of (Human) Nature: Nymphs in British Art 1780–1840
ReadRuth Kenny's essay on The Craze for Pastel in conjunction with a 2014 BP Spotlight display at Tate Britain on …
The celebrated nature writer takes a personal tour of those lesser known pictorial heroes that feature in many works within …