Died on 02 August 1913: George
Hitchcock, US artist born on 29 September 1850.
He was active in the Netherlands. A descendant of Roger Williams (the founder of Rhode Island), he practiced law for five years in New York before deciding in 1879 to become an artist. He studied in Paris under Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre, in Düsseldorf, and in The Hague under H. W. Mesdag [1831-1915]. He settled in Egmond-aan-Zee, near Alkmaar, in 1883, and was soon widely known for his paintings of religious subjects in contemporary settings and of sunlit views of tulip fields. He returned to the US only occasionally in later years. Hitchcock’s style, similar to Impressionism, has been appreciated more in Europe than in the US. A good example of his style is The Blessed Mother (1892).
— Dutch Bride (1898, 76x61cm) — The Milkmaid (168kb) — Dutch Flower Girls (105kb)
A Dream of Christmas Eve
Maternité (640x900pix, 43kb) _ Although on one level a simple depiction of a young peasant woman with her children, the winnowing net frames her head like a halo. The religious symbolism transforms the group into a Holy Family. Casting a gloomy portent of the Crucifixion, the woman's shadow is about to fall upon a cross formed by the creepers growing on the path.
The Tulip Garden Annunciation Lilies (1887, 159x204cm) The Flight into Egypt (1892) — The Wayfarers (1890, 109x89cm; 900x720pix, 66kb)
— The Blessed Mother aka Madonna and Child (1892, 160x112cm; 380x268pix, 24kb) _ After Hitchcock settled in Holland, he painted this Dutch peasant mother dressed in contemporary costume holding her baby and posing formally in a garden. Hitchcock was a visionary painter fascinated by the power of faith. But, like with many of his paintings, both the title and the scene here remain ambiguous, being neither clearly religious nor clearly secular. Early critics praised the work for its technical sophistication and representation of maternal tenderness, but they questioned its religious merit. Other reviewers, however, recognized religious symbolism throughout the painting. The mother's lacy headdress can represent a halo. The apple tree suggests the lost Eden, recovered through the birth of the child. The young bullock hints to the future sacrifice of Christ, and the prominent red tulip at the feet of the figures symbolizes the cup of sorrow. This painting's religious ambiguity exemplifies the 19th-century struggle to bring faith to terms with technical, philosophical and scientific advances, namely Darwinism. Left to search for meaning in life and a spiritual identity, many artists, like Hitchcock, looked to women and nature for a link to the divine.
Born on 02 August 1627: Samuel
van Hoogstraten, Dutch (or Flemish?) painter born on 19
October 1678. He studied under Rembrandt
Dutch painter and writer on art. He painted genre scenes in the style of de Hooch and Metsu, and portraits. but he is best known as a specialist in perspective effects. One of his "perspective boxes" which shows a painted toy world through a peep-hole. Only in his early works can it be detected that he was a pupil of Rembrandt. Hoogstraten travelled to London, Vienna, and Rome, worked in Amsterdam and The Hague as well as his native Dordrecht, and was a man of many parts. He was an etcher, poet, director of the mint at Dordrecht, and art theorist. His Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst (Introduction to the Art of Painting, 1678) contains one of the rare contemporary appraisals of Rembrandt's work.
Letter Board (1672, 53x79cm)
View of a Corridor (1662, 260x140cm) _ Hoogstraten had a keen interest in problems of perspective and illusionism. He made peep-boxes and large trompe l'oeil decorations for homes. Carel Fabritius, as well as other artists of his generation, shared these interests. In this picture, imaginary lines drawn along the pavement tiles receding to the background seem to meet on the inside of the fireplace, at top right. This one-point perspective construction creates a convincing sequence of rooms.
Still-life (1668, 63x79cm) _ In Dutch painting there is a tendency towards imitation and the dissolution of the boundary between real space and pictorial space. Even Rembrandt painted "window pictures" in which the person portrayed is standing in a door or window whose frame is identical with the frame of the painting. The generation of artists who followed him took a particularly keen interest in trompe-l'oeil techniques. Hoogstralen was a specialist in this field and the work shown here is typical of the genre. Because such trompe-I'oeil effects do not work well in depth, but are most effective on the surface, the artist chose to portray flat objects that could be placed on the picture plane to which relatively flat items could be added. Here, for example, we see a variety of everyday objects held by two leather straps over a wooden frame. That old chestnut about the spectator who is actually fooled by such painted objects is quite easy to imagine in this case, but we should not forget that such trompe-l'oeil paintings were actually intended as a joke and that they were meant to produce a sense of surprise on discovering that the objects were painted rather than real. Even so, this approach towards reproducing reality in painting does tell us something about Dutch painting in general: it is highly "figurative" in the sense that its content is conveyed entirely through the portrayal of objects.
Letter Board (1676) The Anaemic Lady (1670) The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception Tobias' Farewell to His Parents
Died on 02 August 1908: John
Roddam Spencer Stanhope, English Pre-Raphaelite
painter born on 20 January 1829.
Spencer-Stanhope was one of the most important followers of Burne-Jones. He was a member of the group of artists which worked on the Oxford Union murals. His style owes a lot to Burne-Jones, yet Stanhope's color is stronger and less subtle, his drawing is harder and in general the softness and stillness of his master is lacking. His choice of subject-matter and interest in technique is individual. Eve Tempted (1877) is a striking and slightly unnerving interpretation of the serpent in the Garden of Eden whispering into Eve's ear as she stands under the Tree of Knowledge, on a faux-naïf early Renaissance carpet of flowers. Stanhope was in love with the Tuscan landscape and with Florentine art, and spent the latter part of his life in Florence. Stanhope was the uncle and teacher of the painter Evelyn De Morgan née Pickering [1855-1919], who often went to stay with him in Florence.
— Stanhope came from an aristocratic, monied background, and was educated at Eton and Oxford. His parents were opposed to his becoming an artist. Though older than Burne-Jones, Stanhope was strongly influenced by him and was initially a follower of his. As Stanhope matured as an artist he developed his own distinctive style. His works were allegorical and mythical, and he was a great colorist. Initially Stanhope studied under G. F. Watts, with whom he visited Italy twice in the 1850s. Stanhope worked on the unsuccessful murals at the Oxford Union also in the 1850s, meeting Rossetti at that time.
Stanhope suffered severely from asthma, which led him to move to Florence in 1880. Burne-Jones felt that Stanhope’s art suffered from his move to Italy, which took him away from his artistic milieu, and the painter regarded himself as an exile. Florence remained Stanhope's home for the rest of his life, and he painted frescoes in the Anglican church there. Stanhope, Strudwick, and Evelyn de Morgan who were all influenced by Burne-Jones, produced beautiful decorative pictures.
— Photo of Stanhope
— The Waters of Lethe by the Plains of Elysium (1880, 147x282cm; 1240x2477pix, 1447kb)
— Love and the Maiden (138x201cm; 684x1000pix, 267kb) _ Considered by many to be Stanhope's masterpiece, it was bought at Christie’s in 1997 by Australian collector John Schaeffer, for £727'500. In January 2003 he sold it at a profit to the Trustees of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, for the Californian Palace of the Legion of Honor museum.
—The White Rabbit (56x81cm) Psyche and Charon (1000x739pix, 116kb)
Our Lady of the Watergate (122x61cm; 700x357pix, 45kb) [No! It is NOT Nixon's secretary Rose Mary 18-1/2 minute gap Woods. Actually the 1972 June 20 11:26-11:45 gap was probably not an accidental erasure by her but a deliberate one by someone else, possibly Chief of Staff Alexander Haig] [Nixon's Watergate affair]
Love Betrayed (80x53cm) _ This picture is an allegorical story represented through blind Cupid or Love, being led to his fall through the hole in the bridge where his bow has already fallen. The implication is that the young woman to the left of the picture is betraying him through false hope. [Can't Stanhope stand hope?]
Eve Tempted (1877, 163x76cm)
Born on 02 August 1882: Rik
Wouters, Belgian painter and sculptor who died on 11 July
— Rik Wouters was one of the most striking figures in Brabant Fauvism. His paintings (e.g. Woman Ironing, The Education) are a feast of colour. Wouters’ optimism and vitality contrast sharply with the work of the Flemish Expressionists, of which the museum also has a valuable collection. This movement, which was born during the First World War under the influence of French Cubism, Italian Futurism and German Expressionism, played a significant part in Western European art up to 1945. Frits van den Berghe, Gust de Smet and Constant Permeke each in his own way offers a penetrating view of Flemish life between the wars. — Né à Malines en 1882, Henri Wouters commence sa formation artistique à 12 ans dans l'atelier de son père où il travaille le bois et réalise des sculptures pour meubles. Mais il désire en connaître plus sur la sculpture et s'inscrit en 1897 à l'Académie de Malines où il poursuit ces leçons jusque 1901. En 1900, il s'inscrit à l'Académie de Bruxelles et notamment dans le cours de "sculpture d'après nature"donné par Charles Van der Stappen. A 22 ans, il rencontre la femme de sa vie, Nel. Elle est modèle pour différents artistes et devient la muse qu'il ne cessera jamais de représenter. Il l'épouse et le couple s'installe à Watermael. Malheureusement, les temps sont durs et l'année d'après, ils sont déjà contraints de retourner à Malines chez le père de Rik. A cette époque, il est conquis par le luminisme en peinture : ses baigneuses nues sont éclairées par les derniers rayons du soleil. Peu à peu, les jeux de la lumière le déçoivent et il est mécontent de son travail. Après des tensions avec le père de Rik, ils reviennent à Bruxelles et s'installent à Saint-Josse-ten-Noode où leur misère est grande. L'année suivante, Rik obtient malgré tout un deuxième prix au concours Godecharles avec sa sculpture Rêverie. Il se réinscrit à l'Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles en vue de préparer le prix de Rome. Nel est atteinte de la tuberculose et le couple s'installe à la campagne. Ce sera Boitsfort où l'artiste fait plusieurs essais de peinture et des études de lumière en utilisant des couleurs claires appliquées sur du carton, les toiles étant trop chères.
— Portrait de Rik au cigare (1913)
— Les rideaux rouges (1913)
— Femme Assise (1915, 96x74cm)
Died on 02 August 1644: Bernardo Strozzi
il prete Capucino Genovese, Genoese Baroque
Era painter born in 1581.
Father Strozzi was the most important exponent of the rich vein of Genoese art in the seventeenth century. He entered the Capuchin Order in about 1597, hence his nicknames, Il Prete Genovese (the Genoese priest) and Il Cappuccino (the Capuchin). In about 1610 he was allowed to leave his community to look after his sick and widowed mother, and after she died in 1630 he is said to have been pressurized to return, this accounting for his move in 1631 to Venice where he spent the rest of his life).
Strozzi was successful and prolific in both Genoa and Venice, painting portraits and allegorical and genre scenes (often of musicians) as well as religious works. The sensuous richness of his style was influenced by Rubens (who worked in Genoa), but his work is highly distinctive, with an air of refinement and tenderness that recalls Van Dyck (who also worked in Genoa). The Ligurian school was molded through its contacts first with Rubens, which led to him using rich, thick colors applied with wide brushstrokes, and later with Van Dyck, whose refined elegance added its own influence. Strozzi's interpretation of these trends was highly original and combined with his thorough knowledge of other currents in art, from the Lombard school to the diffusion of Caravaggio's style. He produced a splendid series of frescos, altarpieces, and paintings for private collectors in Genoa.
His paintings were an immediate success in Venice, partly because Palma the Younger had recently died and there was a lack of native painters. From then on, with two other 'foreigners', Feti and Lys, he kept alive the painterly tradition of the 16th century. Strozzi could be considered one of the most important painters in seventeenth-century Venice. Apart from religious paintings, he was also much admired for the fleshy but lively portraits he painted.
St Augustine Washing the Feet of Christ (1629, 310x200cm) _ Strozzi, a friar of the Capucines Order, was the most significant painter in Genova at the beginning of the 17th century. He was under the influence of Rubens due to Rubens's paintings to be seen in Genova. In 1631 he moved to Venice where he painted several religious and mythological paintings.
Banquet at the House of Simon (detail) (1629) _ Bernardo Strozzi the last of the three painters who revitalized Venetian painting at the beginning of the 17th century, came to Venice from Genoa in 1631. In his works the artistic language of Fetti and Liss is developed in a more decorative style influenced by Veronese, with a robust exuberance of color reminiscent of Rubens. Strozzi's admiration for Veronese even before leaving Genoa is evident in Banquet at the house of Simon, clearly inspired by the works of the great painter, even if the exuberant style is now clearly Baroque. The banquet table is set diagonally in the wide niche. There are two focal points to the composition: Christ defending Mary Magdalene and Simon leaning incredulously over the table. A dense, rich color, vibrant with atmospheric luminosity renders the figures physically and spiritually alive. The close observation of detail has a post-Caravaggio realism in the brilliant depiction of the servant interrupting the scuffle between a dog and a cat, or of the page bearing a tray of fruit, silhouetted against the sky.
Madonna and Child with the Young St John (1620, 158x126cm) _ This painting (there is a basket of peaches and grapes in the upper left shadows) demonstrates the Strozzi is an excellent painter of still-life although he rarely dedicated himself to this genre to produce an "autonomous" still-life [which is just as well. I consider already-deads a better name for them, and that they are supremely boring.].
The Charity of Saint Lawrence (1619, 119x160cm) _ Saint Lawrence was a Christian martyr of Spanish birth who died in Rome in 258, one of the most venerated saints since the 4th century. He was ordained deacon by Pope Sixtus II and met his death shortly after the pope's own martyrdom. Tradition has it that the pope, when arrested, instructed Lawrence to give away to the poor the church's treasures, consisting of precious vessels and money, for which, as deacon, he was responsible. No sooner had he done so than Lawrence was ordered by the Roman prefect to surrender them to him, whereupon Lawrence, indicating the poor and sick around him, said, 'Here are the treasures of the Church'. For this he was condemned to be roasted on a gridiron, a torture he underwent with equanimity, merely observing, 'See, I am done enough on one side, now turn me over and cook the other'. This is one of the earliest and best versions of a painting by Strozzi that enjoyed great popularity and that was repeated many times by the artist. In this series of similar versions the Rome painting was probably preceded only by a canvas in the Royal Palace in Genoa, which has a reversed composition. The proposed dating of the picture is 1615-20, before the creation of most of the other replicas and before the creation of a later, completely different version of the same subject that belongs to the artist's Venetian sojourn (c. 1630-1644). This dating places the canvas in a period when Strozzi was adopting a new naturalism after coming into contact with Caravaggio's works in Genoa. At the same time, however, he did not abandon the lessons learned from the Tuscans, above all from Matteo Rosselli. The Caravaggesque influences are evident here in the accentuated definition of the light-dark contrasts and in the composition of a scene with four half-figures. Stylistically close to the Calling of St Matthew now in Worcester, this painting is considered the chief masterpiece of Strozzi's early career.
The Miracle of Saint Diego of Alcantara (1625, 250x170cm) _ The output of Bernardo Strozzi's Genoese activity can be divided into two parts, the paintings and frescoes for the aristocracy and the altarpieces and other religious compositions for the Capuchin Order.
Old Woman at the Mirror (1615, 132x108cm) _ Shortly after completing his apprenticeship, Strozzi entered the capuchin convent of Santa Barbara in Genoa. Although he was to leave the convent later as a lay preacher, his ascetic inner attitude is evident throughout his ceuvre. Here, he portrays an old woman with jaded skin and white hair who is denying herself the dignity of old age. She is having her hair sumptuously styled and ornamented with ribbons and feathers, is wearing a youthful, low-cut dress and admiring herself with pleasure in the mirror. The theme of this painting has a long tradition: the old woman who has not learned to give her life any other meaning but that of ornament and vanity, and who is unable to see the truth or recognize her true self in the mirror. Strozzi's formulation, however, is both individual and new. It makes the most of the surface values, deliberately contrasting the wrinkled skin of the old woman with the fresh complexion of her servant and juxtaposing the firm and rounded forms of youth with the withered slackness of old age. He reveals in the mirror that the old woman's red cheeks are painted with rouge, and he places a blossoming, scented rose in her wrinkled hand. He also shows us the uncriticizing complacency on her face, leaving it up to the spectator to deduce a sense of embarrassment, emptiness, transparent illusion and moral warning.
The Cook (1625, 176x185cm) _ The scene as a whole can be considered a masterpiece of Italian genre painting. We should not overlook the lively and sharp presence of the cook herself.
Joseph Telling his Dreams (1626, 182x112cm)
An Allegory of Fame Lute Player (1635)
Born on 02 August 1871: John Sloan,
School painter, etcher and lithographer, cartoonist, and illustrator,
who died on 07 September 1951. Husband of Helen
Sloan is known for the vitality of his depictions of everyday life in New York City in the early 20th century. Sloan was a newspaper artist in Philadelphia, where he studied with Robert Henri. He followed Henri to New York, where in 1908 Henri, Sloan, and six others exhibited together as The Eight. Sloan's paintings of urban life gave critics the derogatory phrase: Ashcan School. For most of his life Sloan intermittently taught and illustrated socialist articles for: The Masses. In 1938 he wrote: The Gist of Art. His best known period was from 1900 to 1920 during which he drew his inspiration directly from life, primarily the New York scene. These pictures tend to be of the working class. Sometimes he created a work that evokes a mood of romantic melancholy, and sometimes he became satiric. Late in life Sloan returned to the Art Nouveau motifs which had characterized his early work.
Clown Making Up (1909, 81x66cm) South Beach Bathers Rainbow NYC (1912) McSorley's Bar [without cat] McSorley's Cats (1929)
Chinese Restaurant _ Chinese Restaurant (1909, 66x82cm) [with cat] _ As recommended by his mentor, painter Robert Henri, John Sloan derived most of his subjects from close observation of his surroundings. Such was the case on the night of 23 February 1909, when he went out to eat at a restaurant on Sixth Avenue, not far from Herald Square. He wrote, "…I saw a strikingly gotten up girl with dashing red feathers in her hat playing with the restaurant's fat cat. It would be a good thing to paint. I may make a go at it." Characteristically, Sloan waited for a bit before undertaking the work, and on 15 March wrote, "I started a memory painting of the Chinese Restaurant girl I saw some four weeks ago." His intermittent working style is revealed by a diary entry on 18 March, in which he described not only working on the painting, but going to the restaurant again to "…refresh my memory of the place."
Six O'Clock Winter (1912)
Election Night (1907, 67x82cm) _ "November 5 : Election Day…After dinner…out again and saw the noisy trumpet blowers, confetti throwers and the 'ticklers' in use - a small feather duster on a stick which is pushed in the face of each girl by the men, and in the face of men by the girls. A good humorous crowd, so dense in places that it was impossible to control one's movement." So John Sloan described the scene that he began to paint a week later, the painting that became Election Night. The location, Herald Square at 34th and Broadway, was close by the New York Herald Building as well as Macy's, two of the city's most iconic institutions. The elevated railroad tracks loomed overhead, increasing the suggestion of noise and activity in the scene. When 'The Eight' (a group of artists who opposed the conservative tendencies of the National Academy) exhibited at Macbeth Gallery in New York in 1908, Sloan included Election Night as one of his entries. In Sloan's estimation, it was "…one of my best things. So that I felt happy in the evening, that good all over feeling that only comes from satisfaction in work - the real happiness, the joy of accomplishing or thinking that one has accomplished, which amounts to the same thing."
Died on 02 August 1788: Thomas Gainsborough,
English Rococo era and Romantic painter, specialized in Portraits,
baptized as a newborn on 14 May 1727; uncle of Gainsborough
Gainsborough was born in Suffolk, the fifth son of a wool merchant. He studied at Saint Martin's Lane Academy in London from 1740 to 1748 with Hubert Gravelot, an engraver and illustrator in the French rococo style, and Francis Hayman, a painter of small portrait groups. To support himself, Gainsborough copied and repaired seventeenth-century Dutch landscapes, notably those of Jan Wynants and Jacob van Ruisdael, which were popular with English collectors. He was an acknowledged landscape painter by 1748 when he presented The Charterhouse to the Foundling Hospital. He returned to Suffolk in 1748, eventually settling in Ipswich as a portrait painter. From 1759 to 1774 Gainsborough lived in Bath, the fashionable resort of the aristocracy, where he deliberately refined his portrait style in the manner of Anthony van Dyck. He exhibited at the Society for Artists in London from 1761 to 1768, and was invited to be a founding member of the Royal Academy in 1768. After several disagreements with the academy over the hanging of his pictures, Gainsborough withdrew and exhibited his work annually from 1784 at Schomberg House, his London residence. Gainsborough died in August 1788, and later that year his great rival Sir Joshua Reynolds paid special tribute to this artist in his fourteenth discourse to the Royal Academy. First interest in his printmaking from Max Friedländer just before 1914. Important in development of processes of aquatint and soft ground etching.
Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk. He showed artistic ability at an early age, and when he was 15 years old he studied drawing and etching in London with the French engraver Hubert Gravelot. Later he studied painting with Francis Hayman, a painter of historical events. Through Gravelot, who had been a pupil of the great French painter Antoine Watteau, Gainsborough came under Watteau's influence. Later he was also influenced by the painters of the Dutch school and by the Flemish painter Sir Anthony van Dyck. From 1745 to 1760 Gainsborough lived and worked in Ipswich. From 1760 to 1774 he lived in Bath, a fashionable health resort, where he painted numerous portraits and landscapes. In 1768 he was elected one of the original members of the Royal Academy of Arts; and in 1774 he painted, by royal invitation, portraits of King George III and the queen consort, Charlotte Sophia. Gainsborough settled in London the same year. He was the favorite painter of the British aristocracy, becoming wealthy through commissions for portraits. Gainsborough died in London.
Gainsborough made more than 500 paintings, of which more than 200 are portraits. His portraits are characterized by the noble and refined grace of the figures, by poetic charm, and by cool and fresh colors, chiefly greens and blues, thinly applied. Among his world-famous portraits are Orpin, the Parish Clerk; The Baillie Family (1784) and Mrs. Siddons (1785); Perdita Robinson (1781); The Hon. Francis Duncombe (1777); (1787); The Blue Boy (1779). His portrait Mr. and Mrs. Andrews (1750) is unusually balanced between portrait and landscape painting.
The effect of poetic melancholy induced by faint lighting characterizes Gainsborough's paintings. He was obviously influenced by Dutch 17th-century landscape painting. Forest scenes, or rough and broken country, are the usual subjects of his landscapes, most notably Cornard Wood (1748) and The Watering Place (1777). Gainsborough also made many memorable drawings and etchings.
English portrait and landscape painter, the most versatile English painter of the 18th century. Some of his early portraits show the sitters grouped in a landscape (Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, 1750). As he became famous and his sitters fashionable, he adopted a more formal manner that owed something to Anthony Van Dyck (The Blue Boy, 1770). His landscapes are of idyllic scenes. During his last years he also painted seascapes and idealized full-size pictures of rustics and country children.
Gainsborough was the youngest son of John Gainsborough, a maker of woolen goods. When he was 13, he persuaded his father to send him to London to study on the strength of his promise at landscape. He worked as an assistant to Hubert Gravelot, a French painter and engraver and an important figure in London art circles at the time. From him Gainsborough learned something of the French Rococo idiom, which had a considerable influence on the development of his style. In 1746 in London he married Margaret Burr, the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Beaufort. Soon afterward he returned to Suffolk and settled in Ipswich in 1752; his daughters Mary and Margaret were born in 1748 and 1752, respectively. In Ipswich Gainsborough met his first biographer, Philip Thicknesse. He early acquired some reputation as a portrait and landscape painter and made an adequate living.
Gainsborough declared that his first love was landscape and began to learn
the language of this art from the Dutch 17th-century landscapists, who by
1740 were becoming popular with English collectors; his first landscapes
were influenced by Jan Wynants.
The earliest dated picture with a landscape background is a study of a bull
terrier BumperA Bull Terrier (1745), in which many
of the details are taken straight from Wynants. But by 1748, when he painted
Cornard Wood, Jacob
van Ruisdael had become the predominant influence; although it is full
of naturalistic detail, Gainsborough probably never painted directly from
nature. The Charterhouse, one of his few topographical views, dates
from the same year as Cornard Wood and in the subtle effect of
light on various surfaces proclaims Dutch influence. In the background to
Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, he anticipates the realism of the great English
landscapist of the next century, John Constable, but for the most part fancy
held sway. In many of the early
landscapes the influence of Rococo design learned from Gravelot is evident,
together with a feeling for the French pastoral tradition. The Woodcutter
Courting a Milkmaid is an Anglicized version of a French theme, which
recalls compositions by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
Although Gainsborough preferred landscape, he knew he must paint portraits
for economic reasons. The small heads painted in Suffolk, although sometimes
rather stiff, are penetrating character studies delicately and freely pencilled,
particularly the jaunty self-portrait in a cocked hat at Houghton. Gainsborough
painted few full-length portraits in Suffolk. Mr. William Woollaston, although
an ambitious composition, is intimate and informal. The Painter's Daughters
Chasing a Butterfly, composed in the last years at Ipswich, is, in
its easy naturalism and sympathetic understanding, one of the best English
portraits of children.
As well as straight portraits, he painted in Suffolk a number of delightful spontaneous groups of small figures in landscapes closely related to conversation pieces. Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, which has been described as the most English of English pictures, is set in a typical Suffolk landscape. Lady and Gentleman in Landscape is more Frenchified, with its vivacious Rococo rhythms, but Heneage Lloyd and His Sister is more stylized, the charming little figures being posed against a conventional background of steps and decorative urns.
To obtain a wider public, Gainsborough moved in 1759 to Bath, where his studio was soon thronged with fashionable sitters. He moved in musical and theatrical circles, and among his friends were members of the Linley family, whose portraits he painted. At Bath he also met the actor David Garrick, for whom he had a profound admiration and whom he painted on many occasions. His passion for music and the stage continued throughout his life. In the west country he visited many of the great houses and at Wilton fell under the spell of Anthony Van Dyck, the predominating influence in his later work. In spite of the demand for portraits, he continued to paint landscapes.
In 1761 he sent a portrait of Earl Nugent to the Society of Artists, and in the following year the first notice of his work appeared in the London press. Throughout the 1760s he exhibited regularly in London and in 1768 was elected a foundation member of the Royal Academy. Characteristically he never took much part in the deliberations.
After Gainsborough moved to Bath, he had less time for landscape and worked a good deal from memory, often drawing by candlelight from little model landscapes set up in his studio. About 1760 Peter Paul Rubens supplanted the Dutch painters as Gainsborough's chief love. This is particularly noticeable in Peasants Returning from Market, with its rich color and beautiful creamy pastel shades. The influence of Rubens is also apparent in The Harvest Wagon in the fluency of the drawing and the scale of the great beech trees so different from the stubby oaks of Suffolk. The idyllic scene is a perfect blend of the real and the ideal. The group in the cart is based on Rubens' Descent from the Cross (1614) in Antwerp cathedral, which Gainsborough copied.
In Bath, Gainsborough had to satisfy a more sophisticated clientele and adopted a more formal and elegant portrait style based largely on a study of Van Dyck at Wilton, where he made a free copy of Van Dyck's painting of the Pembroke family. By 1769, when he painted Isabella Countess of Sefton, it is easy to see the refining influence of Van Dyck in the dignified simplicity of the design and the subtle muted coloring. One of Gainsborough's most famous pictures, The Blue Boy, was probably painted in 1770. In painting this subject in Van Dyck dress, he was following an 18th-century fashion in painting, as well as doing homage to his hero. The influence of Van Dyck is most clearly seen in the more official portraits. John, 4th Duke of Argyll in his splendid robes is composed in the grand manner, and Augustus John, Third Earl of Bristol rivals Reynolds' portraits of the kind. Gainsborough preferred to paint his friends rather than public figures, and a group of portraits of the 1760s Uvedale Price, Sir William St. Quinton, and Thomas Coward, all oldish men of strong character illustrate Gainsborough's sense of humour and his individual approach to sympathetic sitters.
In 1774 Gainsborough moved to London and settled in part of Schomberg House
in Pall Mall. Fairly soon he began to be noticed by the royal family and
partly because of his informality and Tory politics was preferred by George
III above the official court painter, Sir
Joshua Reynolds. In 1781 he was commissioned to paint the King and Queen.
Gainsborough continued his landscape work. The Watering Place was described by Horace Walpole, the English man of letters, as in the style of Rubens, but it also has much of the classic calm of Claude Lorrain, whose etchings Gainsborough owned. In 1783 he made an expedition to the Lake District to see for himself the wild scenery extolled by the devotees of the picturesque. On his return he painted a number of mountain scenes that have analogies with the work of Gaspard Dughet, whose works were widely distributed in English country houses. Some sea pieces dating from the 1780s show a new kind of realism, harking back to the Dutch seascape tradition. During his last years Gainsborough was haunted by his nostalgia for Arcadia in the English countryside and painted a series of pictures of peasant life more ideal than real, for example, The Cottage Door. But one of the latest landscapes, The Market Cart, is less idealized and more true to nature and looks forward to Constable in its treatment of the light breaking through the massive foliage.
Gainsborough was the only important English portrait painter to devote much time to landscape drawing. He composed a great many drawings in a variety of mediums including chalk, pen and wash, and watercolor, some of them varnished. He was always eager to find new papers and new techniques. He produced a magic lantern to give striking lighting effects; the box is still in the Victoria and Albert Museum, together with some of the slides. In addition Gainsborough made a series of soft-ground etchings and aquatints. He never sold his drawings and, although many of them are closely related to pictures, they are not studies in the ordinary sense but works of art in their own right.
Gainsborough was not methodical in keeping sitter books, and comparatively few of the portraits in the early years in London are dated. In 1777 he exhibited at the Royal Academy the well-known Mrs. Graham, C.F. Abel, William Henry, Duke of Gloucester, and Maria, Duchess of Gloucester, all deliberately glamorous and painted in richly heightened color. Queen Charlotte is more restrained; the painting of the flounced white dress decorated with ribbons and laces makes her look every inch a queen. It is significant that Gainsborough, unlike most of his contemporaries, did not generally use drapery painters. In 1784 he quarrelled with the Academy because they insisted on hanging the Three Eldest Princesses at the normal height from the floor, which Gainsborough maintained was too high to appreciate his lightness of touch and delicate pencilling. In protest he withdrew the pictures he had intended for the exhibition and never showed again at the Academy.
In some of Gainsborough's later portraits of women, he dispensed with precise finish, and, without sacrificing the likeness, he concentrated on the general effect. Mrs. Sheridan (1785) melts into the landscape, while Lady Bate Dudley, a symphony in blue and green, is an insubstantial form, almost an abstract. Mrs. Siddons, on the other hand, shows that Gainsborough could still paint a splendid objective study. Few of the later male portraits are of a pronounced character, but exceptions are two particularly good pictures of musicians, Johann Christian Fischer and the unfinished Lord Abingdon (private collection).
A new venture in 1783 was The Mall in St. James' Park, a park scene described by Horace Walpole as all a flutter like a lady's fan. The Morning Walk, with romanticized figures strolling in a landscape, is painted in the same spirit. The fancy pictures painted in the 1780s gave Gainsborough particular pleasure. They are full-sized, idealized portraits of country children and peasants painted from models - for example, The Cottage Girl with a Bowl of Milk. The idea appeared in immature form in the little rustic Suffolk figures, and he may have been fired to exploit it further by seeing the 17th-century Spanish painter Bartolomé Murillo's St. John, which he copied.
Of all the 18th-century English painters, Thomas Gainsborough was the most inventive and original, always prepared to experiment with new ideas and techniques, and yet he complained of his contemporary Sir Joshua Reynolds, Damn him, how various he is. Gainsborough alone among the great portrait painters of the era also devoted serious attention to landscapes. Unlike Reynolds, he was no great believer in an academic tradition and laughed at the fashion for history painting; an instinctive painter, he delighted in the poetry of paint. In his racy letters Gainsborough shows a warm-hearted and generous character and an independent mind. His comments on his own work and methods, as well as on some of the old masters, are very revealing and throw considerable light on contemporary views of art.
Gainsborough, painter of portraits, landscapes, and fancy pictures, was one of the most individual geniuses in British art. He was born at Sudbury, Soffolk, and went to London in about 1740, probably studying with the French engraver Gravelot. He returned to Sudbury in 1748 and in 1752 he set up as a portrait painter at Ipswitch. His work at this time consisted mainly of heads and half-length, but he also painted some small portrait groups in landscape settings which are the most lyrical of all English conversation pieces (Heneage Lloyd and his Sister). His patrons were the merchants of the town and the neighboring squires, but when in 1759 he moved to Bath, his new sitters were members of Society, and he developed a free and elegant mode of painting seen at its most characteristic in full-length portraits (Mary, Countess Howe, 1764). In 1768 he was elected a foundation member of the Royal Academy, and in 1774 he moved permanently to London. Here he further developed the personal style he had evolved at Bath, working with light and rapid brush-strokes and delicate and evanescent colors. He became a favorite painter of the Royal Family, even though his rival Reynolds was appointed King's Principal Painter.
Gainsborough sometimes said that while portraiture was his profession landscape painting was his pleasure, and he continued to paint landscapes long after he had left a country neighborhood. He produced many landscape drawings, some in pencil, some in charcoal and chalk, and he occasionally made drawings which he varnished. He also, in later years, painted fancy pictures of pastoral subjects (Peasant Girl Gathering Sticks, 1782). Gainsborough's style had diverse sources. His early works show the influence of French engraving and of Dutch landscape painting; at Bath his change of portrait style owed much to a close study of van Dyck (his admiration is most clear in The Blue Boy, 1770); and in his later landscapes (The Watering Place, 1777) he is sometimes influenced by Rubens. But he was an independent and original genius, able to assimilate to his own ends what he learnt from others, and he relied always mainly on his own resources. With the exception of his nephew Gainsborough Dupont, he had no assistants and unlike most of his contemporaries he never employed a drapery painter.
He was in many ways the antithesis of Reynolds. Whereas Reynolds was sober-minded and the complete professional, Gainsborough (even though his output was prodigious) was much more easy-going and often overdue with his commissions, writing that ‘painting and punctuality mix like oil and vinegar'. Although he was an entertaining letter-writer, Gainsborough, unlike Reynolds, had no interest in literary or historical themes, his great passion outside painting being music (his friend William Jackson the composer wrote that he ‘avoided the company of literary men, who were his aversion... he detested reading'). Gainsborough and Reynolds had great mutual respect, however; Gainsborough asked for Reynolds to visit him on his deathbed, and Reynolds paid posthumous tribute to his rival in his Fourteenth Discourse. Recognizing the fluid brilliance of his brushwork, Reynolds praised ‘his manner of forming all the parts of a picture together', and wrote of ‘all those odd scratches and marks’ that ‘by a kind of magic, at a certain distance... seem to drop into their proper places'.
Thomas Gainsborough was a landscape and portrait painter, one of the great English masters. He was born in Sudbury, Suffolk in the family of a clothier. He showed an aptitude for drawing early and first was encouraged by his mother, who was a woman of well-cultivated mind and excelled in flower-painting. He used to spend a lot of time outdoors, drawing. In 1740, at the age of 13 he was sent to London to study art. He spent several years working in the studios of different artists, one of whom was Hubert Gravelot, a draughtsman and engraver, another one was a scene-painter and illustrator Francis Hayman.
In 1748 Gainsborough presented The Charterhouse (1748) to the Foundling Hospital, it was a way for the artist to show one of his works, because at that time there were no other possibilities for young artists. In 1746 Gainsborough married Margaret Burr, an illegitimate daughter of Duke of Beaufort. His wife brought the family an annuity of £200, which enabled him to start his career as a portrait-painter in Ipswich.
He first did not have many commissions there and had a lot of time to indulge in his favorite pursuit: to draw landscapes. Also he created many beautiful pictures of his wife and daughters such as Self-Portrait with His Wife, Margaret (probably) (1747), Thomas Gainsborough, with His Wife and Elder Daughter, Mary, (1752), The Painter's Daughters, Margaret and Mary, Chasing Butterfly, (1756), The Painter's Daughters, Margaret and Mary, Holding a Cat, (1759). The most notable portraits of that period are Robert Andrews and His Wife Frances (1749), Heneage Lloyd and His Sister (1755), William Wollaston. (1759).
In 1760 Gainsborough decided to move to Bath, where it was possible for
him to have portraits commissioned by the much wealthier and nobler persons.
Bath, famous for its mineral waters, was the principal lounging place for
persons of wealth and leisure in winter. Gainsborough became well-known
there in his first year after moving and since then always had a lot of
sitters. His portraits combine the elegance of Van
Dyck with his own characteristic informality. There are such early masterpieces
Philip Thicknesse (1760), Mary,
Countess Howe (1764), The
Blue Boy (exhibited R.A. 1770), and the landscape The
Harvest Wagon (exhibited S.A. 1767). In 1768 he became one of the
foundation members of the Royal Academy, at which he exhibited annually
until 1784, when he retired after the disagreement over the hanging of his
pictures at the exhibition.
In 1774 Gainsborough moved to London. He was an established master by then. To this last great period of his life belong such masterpieces of portraiture as The Hon. Mrs. Thomas Graham (exhibited R.A. 1777), The Hon. Frances Duncombe (1778), Mrs. Thomas Gainsborough, nee Margaret Burr (1778), Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1783), Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, née Elizabeth Linley (1785), William Hallett and His Wife Elizabeth, nee Stephen, known as "The Morning Walk" (1785), Mrs. Sarah Siddons (1785), and landscapes The Watering Place (1777), The Cottage Door (exhibited R.A. 1780). Mountain Landscape with Peasants Crossing a Bridge (1784), The Woodsman (1788). He died from cancer.
Self-Portrait (1754; main detail 872x1180pix, 73kb — ZOOM TO FULL PICTURE 2469x2024pix, 182kb)
Duchess of Devonshire
— J.-C. Bach — Haymaker and Sleeping Girl — Girl With Pigs
— Heneage Lloyd and his Sister (main detail 882x1177pix, 95kb — ZOOM TO FULL PICTURE 1627x2024pix, 278kb)
— Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, née Elizabeth Linley (1785; main detail 875x1163pix, 67kb — ZOOM TO FULL PICTURE 2293x1576pix, 180kb) _ Elizabeth was a political wife since 1780 when playwright Richard Sheridan [30 Oct 1751 – 07 Jul 1816] entered the House of Commons (representing Stafford) as a Whig. He was spectacularly unfaithful to her, having affairs with several society beauties. Elizabeth reacted by having an affair of her own, with Lord Edward Fitzgerald [15 Oct 1763 – 04 Jun 1798] (who would die in prison from being wounded when arrested on 19 May 1798 as an Irish rebel), by whom she had a daughter, Mary, who died in 1795, three years after Elizabeth died of tuberculosis.
Elizabeth Ann Linley [07 Sep 1754 – 1792] was the second of the twelve children of the conductor and composer Thomas Linley [1719 – 14 Aug 1788] and his wife Mary Johnson. Elizabeth and six of her siblings were destined for musical careers. It is said that Elizabeth possessed the greatest talent and beauty. Elizabeth was trained by her father at an early age. Elizabeth's first performance was at age twelve, when she and her brother played in The Fairy Favour at Covent Garden Theater on 31 January 1767. In May Elizabeth sang and Thomas played the violin in a concert at Bath. They received much encouragement, and their father promised to see to their improvement. Elizabeth soon had a reputation as a musically precocious and celebrated soprano. In London concert rooms were readily available to her. But the family moved to Bath where her father became head of the Academy of Oratorios. In 1700 Elizabeth was contracted to marry a 60-year-old squire named Walter Long, but Long, for some reason, dissolved the contract by paying her father and giving Elizabeth some family jewels. The event was publicized and became the plot of Samuel Foote's play The Maid of Bath [which opened on 26 June 1776]. Then Captain Thomas Mathews, a married man, forced his attentions upon Elizabeth, telling her he would ruin her virtue and/or her reputation. Elizabeth confided in young Richard Sheridan, whose father Thomas Sheridan [1719 – 14 Aug 1788] was head of the Academy of Oratorios at Bath, and they decided to elope to France in March 1772, where she would stay in a convent until Mathews stopped provoking her. By the end of April 1772, Elizabeth and Richard were back in England. However, Mathews felt that his honor was assailed by a letter Richard wrote to him. In a duel at Covent Garden in London, Richard bested him and forced Mathews to apologize. But Mathews revoked the apology he had given and this led to a second duel at Kingsdown near Bath. Richard was disarmed and severely wounded by Mathew's slashes to his neck and chest. Mathews fled to France; Elizabeth cared for Richard and they were married on 13 April 1773, the day after her last public performance. The couple moved to London where Elizabeth held musicales and Richard began to write plays.
— Mrs. Siddons (main detail 991x1182pix, 73kb — ZOOM TO FULL PICTURE 2011x1576pix, 185kb) _ Mrs. Sarah Siddons [1755-1831] was an English actress, the eldest child of Roger Kemble, manager of a small travelling theatrical company and sister of Charles, John Philip and Stephen Kemble, English actors. She acted in her father's traveling theater since early childhood and in 1782 joined Drury Lane. Her success was immediate, and from then on she was the undisputed queen of tragedy on the London stage. In 1803 she followed her brother John Philip Kemble to Covent Garden, where she performed until her retirement actress, the eldest child of Roger Kemble, manager of a small travelling theatrical company and sister of Charles, John Philip and Stephen Kemble, English actors. She acted in her father's traveling theater since early childhood and in 1782 joined Drury Lane. Her success was immediate, and from then on she was the undisputed queen of tragedy on the London stage. In 1803 she followed her brother John Philip Kemble to Covent Garden, where she performed until her retirement
— Molly and Peggy with Drawing Supplies (1762; 750x628pix, 39kb — ZOOM to 1499x1256pix, 124kb)
— Mr. and Mrs. Andrews (1748, 70x119cm) _ Robert Andrews and his wife Frances Mary, née Carter, were married in 1748, not long before Gainsborough painted their portraits and that of Auberies, their farm near Sudbury. The church in the background is St. Peter's, Sudbury, and the tower to the left is that of Lavenham church. The small full-length portrait in an open-air rustic setting is typical of Gainsborough's early works, painted in his native Suffolk after his return from London; the identifiable view is unusual, and may have been specified by the patrons. We must not imagine that they sat together under a tree while Gainsborough set up his easel among the sheaves of corn; their costumes were most likely painted from dressed-up artist's mannequins, which may account for their doll-like appearance, and the landscape would have been studied separately. This kind of picture, commissioned by people 'who lived in rooms which were neat but not spacious', in Ellis Waterhouse's happy phrase about Gainsborough's contemporary Arthur Devis, was a speciality of painters who were not 'out of the top drawer'. The sitters, or their mannequin stand-ins, are posed in 'genteel attitudes' derived from manuals of manners. The nonchalant Mr. Andrews, fortunate possessor of a game licence, has his gun under his arm; Mrs. Andrews, ramrod straight and neatly composed, may have been meant to hold a book, or, it has been suggested, a bird which her husband has shot. In the event, a reserved space left in her lap has not been filled in with any identifiable object. Out of these conventional ingredients Gainsborough has composed the most tartly lyrical picture in the history of art. Mr. Andrews's satisfaction in his well-kept farmlands is as nothing to the intensity of the painter's feeling for the gold and green of fields and copses, the supple curves of fertile land meeting the stately clouds. The figures stand out brittle against that glorious yet ordered bounty. But how marvellously the acid blue hooped skirt is deployed, almost, but not quite, rhyming with the curved bench back, the pointy silk shoes in sly communion with the bench feet, while Mr. Andrews's substantial shoes converse with tree roots. (The faithful gun dog had better watch out for his unshod paws.) More rhymes and assonances link the lines of gun, thighs, dog, calf, coat; a coat tail answers the hanging ribbon of a sun hat; something jaunty in the husband's tricorn catches the corner of his wife's eye. Deep affection and naive artifice combine to create the earliest successful depiction of a truly English idyll.
The Blue Boy (1770, 178x112cm; half-length detail 863x1152pix, 78kb — ZOOM TO FULL PICTURE 2375x1576pix, 249kb) _ This is a portrait of Jonathan Buttall, the son of a successful hardware merchant who was a close friend of the artist. This was painted during Gainsborough's extended stay in Bath before he finally settled in London in 1774. The artist has dressed the young man in a costume dating from about 140 years before the portrait was painted. This type of costume was familiar through the portraits of the Flemish painter, Anthony van Dyck [1559-1641], who was resident in England during the early 17th century. Gainsborough greatly admired the work of Van Dyck and seems to have conceived The Blue Boy as an act of homage to that master.
— The Artist's Daughters with a Cat (1761, 76x63cm; main detail 876x1169pix, 97kb — ZOOM TO FULL PICTURE 1531x1256pix, 182kb) _ This unfinished picture was painted soon after the artist arrived in Bath. There is no more than the ghost of the cat.
Upland Landscape with Figures, Riders and Cattle (1787, 21x30cm)
Landscape With Country Carts (1785, 128x103cm)
Eleazar Davy of the Grove, Yoxford, Suffolk (1775, 74x61cm)
Major General Sir William Draper (1765, 127x102cm)
Samuel Kilderbee (1757, 125x100cm) Mrs. Fitzherbert (1784, 76x64cm)
— Landscape (1780 engraving; 1393x1600pix, 635kb)
The Marsham Children (1787, 243x182cm) _ In the rococo period all over Europe Watteau stood as symbol of a new gracefulness and ease: the proof that the painter can tackle apparently flippant subject-matter and yet be a great artist. Watteau's own attitude was soon to matter no longer; he represented something which he might not always have wished to be. His compositions exercised an influence which was perhaps sometimes hardly conscious. A Frenchified grace in genre subjects was attempted everywhere, even in England. The most personal response to Watteau is in Gainsborough, a great painter who yet seldom painted anything resembling a Watteau subject. Several of Gainsborough's early portraits show him utilizing Watteau's compositions for his sitters. But Gainsborough borrows more than a pose, as his later pictures confirm. It is freedom that exhales from his portraits: the freedom of nature and natural settings is allied to free handling, and the whole expresses the idiosyncratic character of his sitters, so relaxed and yet lively, just like Gainsborough's own nature. The painter who described himself in a letter to a patron as `but a wild goose at best' was dearly Watteau's cousin, taking the same freedom for the artist as he expressed in his art, and conscious of being the odd man out in ordinary society. Gainsborough, if anyone, was the heir to Watteau's art, but he was not to torn to the 'fancy picture' until late in life; and there would have been little patronage for an English painter producing fêtes galantes in preference to portraits. Master John Heathcote (1770, 127x101cm)
Conversation in a Park (1740, 73x68cm; main detail 876x1167pix, 99kb — ZOOM TO FULL PICTURE 2322x2024pix, 476kb) _ This charming picture belongs to Gainsborough's early period, when he was working in London and Suffolk. The theme of the conversation in a park evokes Watteau and his school; it denotes a French influence, which played a considerable part in the formation of the artist he was in fact a pupil of the French engraver Gravelot at the St Martins Lane Academy. This picture has been thought to represent Thomas Sandby and his wife. At the Watson sale in 1832, it was described as depicting the artist and his wife. The painter's marriage took place in 1746; a very similar work, Mr and Mrs Andrews, is dated 1748. The open-air portrait is a familiar theme in the English school, whereas in eighteenth-century France the portrait is usually in an interior. The evocation of nature by the English portrait painters is on the whole conventional; it is quite another matter with Gainsborough, however, who has treated the landscape for its own sake.
and Mrs William Hallett “The Morning Walk”
(1785, 236x179cm; 863x674pix, 50kb — ZOOM
to 2459x2024pix, 311kb) _ Instinctive, unpompous, drawn to music
and the theatre more than to literature or history, and to nature more than
to anything, Gainsborough continues to enchant us, as the serious Reynolds
seldom can. Suffolk-born, like Constable, he also became, within his means
and times, a 'natural painter' - albeit of a very different kind. Although
he said he wished nothing more than 'to take my Viol de Gamba and walk off
to some sweet Village where I can paint Landskips', his feeling for nature
encompassed much more than landscape. Children and animals, women and men,
everything that dances, shimmers, breathes, whispers or sings, look natural
in Gainsborough's enchanted world, so that 'nature' comes to encompass silks
and gauzes, ostrich feathers and powdered hair as much as woods and ponds
and butterflies. But this rapturous manner of painting, in which all parts
of a canvas were worked on together with a flickering brush, only appears
in mature works, such as this famous and splendid picture. In his early
years in Sudbury, after his training in London restoring Dutch landscapes
and working with a French engraver, Gainsborough's finish was less free.
After moving to the resort town of Bath in about 1759, he found a metropolitan
clientele, and discovered Van Dyck in country-house collections. Both were
to be decisive, and the effects are best judged in his portraits of women
sitters, on the scale of life, in which elegance and ease of manner combine
with a new, more tender color range and a loosening of paint texture. In
1774 he moved permanently to London, where he built up a great portrait
practice, but also began to paint imaginative 'fancy pictures' inspired
by Murillo. He never aspired to 'history painting' in the Grand Manner.
His poetry resides mainly in his brush, not in compositional inventiveness.
It was surely Gainsborough's own inclination, however, to interpret a formal
marriage portrait, for which the sitters probably sat separately, as a parkland
promenade. William Hallett was 21 and his wife Elizabeth, née Stephen, 20
when they solemnly linked arms to walk in step together through life. A
Spitz dog paces at their side, right foot forward like theirs, as pale and
fluffy as Mrs Hallet is pale and gauzy. Being only a dog with no sense of
occasion he pants joyfully hoping for attention. The parkland is a painted
backdrop, like those of Victorian photographers, yet it provides a pretext
for depicting urban sitters in urban finery as if in the dappled light of
a world fresh with dew.
Johann Christian Fischer (1780, 229x151cm; 935x728pix, 74kb) _ Johann Christian Fischer was an outstanding musician. He was born in 1733 in Germany at Freiburg-im-Breisgau and played for a time in the court band at Dresden before entering the service of Frederick the Great. On coming to London, where he is first documented on 02 June 1768, he became a member of Queen Charlotte's Band and played regularly at court. His performance of Handel's fourth oboe concerto during the Handel Commemoration at Westminster Abbey in 1784 gave particular pleasure to George III. Regardless of such successes, he failed in 1786 to secure the post of Master of the King's Band. He collapsed in 1800 while playing in a concert at court and died shortly afterwards (29 April 1800). Fischer was a composer and virtuoso oboist. His two-keyed oboe is visible on the harpsichord-cum-piano against which the musician leans. Fanny Burney praised the 'sweet-flowing, melting celestial notes of Fischer's hautboy,' but the Italian violinist Felice de' Giardini [1716-1793] referred to Fischer's 'impudence of tone as no other instrument could contend with.' In the portrait on the chair behind Fischer is a violin, on which he was apparently also an accomplished performer although only in private. The harpsichord-cum-piano, made by Joseph Merlin who came to London from the Netherlands in 1760 and established a successful business in the production of pianofortes, presumably refers to his abilities as a composer, as no doubt do the piles of musical scores. This portrait of Johann Christian Fischer stands as testimony to Gainsborough's own love of music. The artist preferred the company of actors, artists, dramatists and musicians to that of politicians, writers or scholars, and was himself a talented amateur musician in addition to being a painter. Gainsborough once wrote to William Jackson: 'I'm sick of Portraits and wish very much to take my Viol da Gamba and walk off to some sweet Village when I can paint Landskips and enjoy the fag End of Life in quietness and ease.'
Yet some of his finest portraits are of musicians and include, in addition to that of Fischer, the composer Karl Friedrich Abel and Johann Christian Bach . These two portraits date from the late 1770s, whereas that of Johann Christian Fischer was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1780. Gainsborough seems to have known Fischer while he was still living in Bath (Fischer moved permanently to London in 1774). As early as 1775 Fischer evinced an interest in the artist's elder daughter Mary [1748-1826], whom he married at Saint Ann's Church, Soho, on 21 February 1780. The wedding was agreed to reluctantly by Gainsborough, who, although he admired Fischer as a musician, perhaps hoped that his elder daughter might make a better marriage, and lodged doubts about the musician's character. He wrote to his sister on 23 February 1780: 'I can't say I have any reason to doubt the man's honesty or goodness of heart, as I never heard anyone speak anything amiss of him; and as to his oddities and temper, she must learn to like as she likes his person, for nothing can be altered now. I pray God she may be happy with him and have her health.'
The marriage did not last and Mary gradually became insane. Whatever tensions Gainsborough might have been experiencing with regard to Fischer's relationship with his daughter, Gainsborough's portrait is masterly in its compositional sophistication, use of color and sympathetic characterization. It is clear, however, that the likeness has been painted over another portrait which will no doubt be revealed by X-ray. The portrait came into the Royal Collection indirectly. It appears to have been painted for Willoughby Bertie, 4th Earl of Abingdon [–1799], a radical politician and a talented amateur musician, but was sold by his successor. Eventually it was acquired by Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, who in 1809 presented it to his brother, the Prince of Wales (later George IV). Both were admirers of Gainsborough's work.
— King George III (1774; 1049x744pix, 92kb — ZOOM to detail 796x1187pix, 69kb)
— The Harvest Wagon (1767; main detail 882x1178pix, 79kb — ZOOM TO FULL PICTURE 1691x2024pix, 250kb)
— The Market Cart (main detail 882x1176pix, 82kb — ZOOM TO FULL PICTURE 2451x2024pix, 321kb)