Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) was one of the most versatile painters of 18th century Britain. He equally masterfully painted both portraits and landscapes and painted more from human observation than from formal academic rules. While portraiture was his profession landscape painting was his pleasure. Unlike many painters of his time, Gainsborough had little interest in literary or historical themes. His most famous works include The Blue Boy, Portrait of a Lady in Blue, and Mr and Mrs Andrews.

Patterns Included In This Set:


Self Portrait

The Blue Boy

Mr and Mrs William Hallett


Mr and Mrs Andrews

Two Daughters with a Cat

The Artist's Daughters


Gainsborough's Daughter Mary

Self Portrait

Lady in Blue


Carl Friedrich Abel with Viola

Lady Georgiana Cavendish

Cottage Girl with Dog and Pitcher


Mary Countess Howe

Mrs Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Johann Christian Fischer


Johann Christian Bach

Master John Heathcote

Mrs. Sarah Siddons


Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliott

A Rocky Coast Scene

Augustus John - third Earl of Brison


Fern Bridge Lane

George Lord Vernon

Elizabeth Wrottesley


John Plampin

Mrs. Graham

Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan


The Honourable Frances Duncombe

William Wollaston

An Extensive Landscape with Cattle and a Drover


Mrs. Peter William Baker

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Gainsborough (May 14, 1727 - August 2, 1788) was an English portrait and landscape painter and one of the greatest English artists of the 18th century. He was a founding member of the Royal Academy and an artist favored by royalty and the nobility.

Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk, the youngest of nine brothers and sisters. His father was a cloth merchant. His mother liked to paint and encouraged her son to do the same. By the age of 13, Thomas Gainsborough’s drawings showed such talent that his father sent him to London to study drawing and printmaking under Hubert Gravelot, a French engraver living and working in London. Gravelot had studied under French rococo painter Watteau and was an important figure on the London art scene. Gainsborough developed his style under Gravelot and came to know many of the leading artists, including William Hogarth. Hogarth invited Gainsborough to decorate the Court Room at the newly built Foundling Hospital, for which Gainsborough produced The Charterhouse, his first famous painting.

In 1746, Thomas Gainsborough met and married Margaret Burr, thought to be the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Bedford. Margaret was not only beautiful, she also came with a dowry of 200 pounds a year, a wedding gift from her father, which enabled the young couple to live comfortably and Gainsborough to concentrate on his painting. During this time Gainsborough was mainly creating landscapes. These weren’t selling very well, so in 1748 the young couple moved back to Sudbury where Gainsborough received landscape commissions from the Duke of Bedford and painted portraits. They stayed there for two years.

By 1752 the Gainsboroughs had two daughters, Mary and Margaret, and the family moved to Ipswich where Gainsborough could obtain more commissions for portraits. He also painted his sitters in landscape settings, works which were known as “conversation pieces.”

In 1759 Gainsborough was on a quest to win more commissions and moved his family yet again, this time to Bath. A fashionable spa town and a meeting place of high society, Bath was the perfect place for a young, ambitious painter. Soon Gainsborough’s studio was filled with fashionable sitters. His charm and talent attracted the rich, titled and famous, and he started sending portraits of his celebrity sitters to the Society of Artists in London. But Gainsborough was not just a society painter during the Bath years. He also used the opportunity to study portraits by van Dyck, an influence that can clearly be seen in his painting, the Blue Boy, where the subject is even wearing a van Dyck costume.

Gainsborough’s style had developed rapidly and by 1768 he was invited to be a founder member of the Royal Academy. But Gainsborough had a stormy relationship with the Academy, and especially its founder, Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was his main rival. By 1784 Gainsborough refused to show his paintings at the Academy following an argument with the hanging committee over the height at which they had hung one of his works.

Gainsborough family moved to London in 1774 and settled in Schomberg House on Pall Mall, a fashionable area of London. After falling out with the Royal Academy, Gainsborough started exhibiting at Shomberg House instead. Those private exhibitions were to continue for the next six years.

Gainsborough was invited to paint the portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte, which led to his becoming a favorite of the royal family and winning leverage with the Royal Academy’s hanging committee. But that didn’t last long and in 1783 he again quarreled with the Academy and went back to exhibiting in his private home. Although Gainsborough was extremely popular with the royal family, King George was obliged to make Joshua Reynolds the official court painter in 1784, even though he preferred Gainsborough’s work, increasing the rivalry between the two artists.

Although he was such a successful portrait painter, Gainsborough’s first love was landscape painting and from around 1780 he started developing this side of his work. Even though these works were not produced for sale they helped put landscape painting on the map.

Gainsborough died of cancer at the age of 62. Throughout his life he had been imaginative, open to new ideas and willing to experiment. He left a legacy of 200 landscapes, 800 portraits and numerous landscape drawings. His talent was such that even Joshua Reynolds, his lifelong rival, paid him a posthumous tribute.

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