Thomas Gainsborough – English painter
Thomas Gainsborough FRSA (14 May 1727 (baptised) – 2 August 1788) was an English portrait and landscape painter, draughtsman, and printmaker. Along with his bitter rival Sir Joshua Reynolds, he is considered one of the most important British portrait 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.
Youth and training
He was born in Sudbury, Suffolk, the youngest son of John Gainsborough, a weaver and maker of woolen goods, and his wife, the sister of the Reverend Humphry Burroughs. One of Gainsborough’s brothers, Humphrey, had a faculty for mechanics and was said to have invented the method of condensing steam in a separate vessel, which was of great service to James Watt; another brother, John, was known as Scheming Jack because of his passion for designing curiosities.
The artist spent his childhood at what is now Gainsborough’s House, on Gainsborough Street. He later resided there, following the death of his father in 1748 and before his move to Ipswich. The original building still survives and is now a house dedicated to his life and art.
When he was still a boy he impressed his father with his drawing and painting skills, and he almost certainly had painted heads and small landscapes by the time he was ten years old, including a miniature self-portrait.
Gainsborough was allowed to leave home in 1740 to study art in London, where he trained under engraver Hubert Gravelot but became associated with William Hogarth and his school. He assisted Francis Hayman in the decoration of the supper boxes at Vauxhall Gardens and contributed to the decoration of what is now the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children.
In 1746, Gainsborough married Margaret Burr, an illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Beaufort, who settled a £200 annuity on them. The artist’s work, then mostly consisting of landscape paintings, was not selling well. He returned to Sudbury in 1748–1749 and concentrated on painting portraits.
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