What Was Thomas Gainsborough’s Painting Method?
Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), was one of the greatest English painters. His two main subjects were portraits and landscapes. Gainsborough was noted for the speed with which he applied his paint, and he worked more from his observations of nature (and of human nature) than from any application of formal academic rules. He painted quickly, and the works of his maturity are characterised by a light palette and easy strokes.
He painted portraits to make money and landscapes because that was his greatest interest. Often he managed to combine the two by painting his portrait subjects in the open air – but he conscientiously devoted as much care to the human figures as to the scenery. His best-known painting is probably The Blue Boy, a token of Gainsborough’s respect for Van Dyck. 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.
His most famous works, Portrait of Mrs. Graham; Mary and Margaret: The Painter’s Daughters; William Hallett and His Wife Elizabeth, nee Stephen, known as The Morning Walk; and Cottage Girl with Dog and Pitcher, display the unique individuality of his subjects. Joshua Reynolds considered Girl with Pigs “the best picture he (Gainsborough) ever painted or perhaps ever will”.
Gainsborough’s works became popular with collectors from the 1850s on, after Lionel de Rothschild began buying his portraits. The rapid rise in the value of pictures by Gainsborough and also by Reynolds in the mid 19th century was partly because the Rothschild family, including Ferdinand de Rothschild began collecting them.
In 2011, Gainsborough’s portrait of Miss Read (Mrs Frances Villebois) was sold by Michael Pearson, 4th Viscount Cowdray, for a record price of £6.5M. She was a matrilineal descendant of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York.