Gainsborough, Thomas

, an admirable English artist, was born in 1727, at Sudbury, in Suffolk, where his father was a clothier. He very early discovered a propensity to painting. Nature was his teacher, and the woods of Suffolk his academy, where he would pass in solitude his mornings, in making a sketch of an antiquated tree, a marshy brook, a few cattle, a shepherd and his flock, or any other accidental objects that were presented. From delineation he got to colouring; and after painting several landscapes from the age of ten to twelve, he quitted Sudbury, and came to London. Here he received his first instructions from Gravelot, and was then placed under the tuition of Mr. Hayman, with whom he staid but a short time. After quitting this master, he for a short time resided in Hatton-garden, and practised painting of portraits of a small size, and also pursued his favourite subject, landscape. During this residence in London, he married a young lady, who possessed an annuity of 200l.; and then retired to Ipswich, and from thence to Bath, where he settled about 1758. He now began painting portraits at the low price of five guineas,*

*

His last prices in London, were forty guineas for a half, and one hundred for full length.

for a threequarter canvas, and was soon so successful as to be encouraged to raise his price to eight guineas. In 1761, for the first time, he sent some of his works to the exhibition in London. In 1774, he quitted Bath, and settled in London in a part of the duke of Schomberg’s house in Pail-Mall. In this situation, possessed of ample fame, and in the acquisition of a plentiful fortune, he was disturbed by a complaint in his neck, which was not much noticed upon the first attack, nor was it apprehended to be more than a swelling in the glands of the throat, which it was expected would subside in a short time, but it was | soon discovered to be a cancer, which baffled the skill of the first medical professors. Finding the danger of his situation, he settled his affairs, and composed himself to meet the fatal moment, and expired Aug. 2, 1788. He was buried, according to his own request, in Kew Churchyard.

Mr. Gainsborough was a man of great generosity. If he selected for the exercise of his pencil, an infant from a cottage, all the tenants of the humble roof generally participated in the profits of the picture; and some of them iVequently found in his habitation a permanent abode. His liberality was not confined to this alone: needy relatives and unfortunate friends were further iucumbrances on a spirit that could not deny; and. owing to this generosity of temper, that affluence was not left to his family which so much merit might promise, and such real worth deserve. There were other traits in his personal character less amiable. He was very capricious in his manners, and rather fickle and unsteady in his social connections.*

*

Mr. Jackson, hereafter mentioned, concludes his character of him in these words: “His conversation was sprightly, but licentious his favourite subjects were music and painting, which be treated in A manner peculiarly his own. The common topics, or any of a superior cast, he thoroughly hated, and always interrupted by some stroke of wit or humour.” “The indiscriminate admirers of my late friend will consider this sketch of his character as far beneath his merit; but it must be remembered, that my wish was not to make it perfect, but just. The same principle obliges me to add that as to his common acquaintance he was sprightly and agreeable, so to his intimate friends he was sincere and honest, and that his heart was always alive to every feeling of honour and generosity, He died with this expression: `We are all going to heaven, and Vandyke is of the party.'

This was sufficiently evinced by his general conduct towards the royal academy, and by his whimsical behaviour to sir Joshua Reynolds. Soon after he settled in London, sir Joshua thought himself bound in civility to pay him a visit. Gainsborough, however, took not the least notice of him for several years, but at length called upon him, and requested him to sit for his picture. Sir Joshua complied, and sat once, but being soon after taken ill, was obliged to so to Bath for his health. On his return to London. perfectly restored, he sent Gainsborough word that he was returned; Gainsborough only replied, that he was glad to hear that sir Joshua Reynolds was well, but never afterwards desired him to sit, nor had any other intercourse with him, until he himself was dying, when he sent to request to see sir Joshua, and thanked him for the very | liberal and favourable manner in which he had always spoken of his works. Sir Joshua had indeed proved his opinion of his talents, by paying an hundred guineas for his exquisite picture of the “Girl attending pigs,” for which Gainsborough asked but sixty.

When the royal academy was founded, Gainsborough was chosen among the first members, but being then resident at Bath, he was too far distant to be employed in the business of the institution. When he came to London, his conduct was so far disrespectful to the members of that body, that he never complied with their invitations, whether official or convivial. In 1784, he sent to the exhibition a whole-length portrait, which he ordered to be placed almost as low as the floor; but as this would have been a violation of the bye-laws of the academy, the gentlemen of the council ventured to remonstrate with him upon the impropriety of such a disposition. Gainsborough returned for answer, that if they did not chuse to hang the picture as he wished, they might send it, which they did immediately. He soon after made an exhibition of his works at his own house, which did not, however, afford trhe expected gratification; and after this circumstance, he never again exhibited.

Among his amusements, music was almost as much his favourite as painting. This passion led him to cultivate the intimacy of all the great musical professors of his time, (one of whom, Fischer, married his daughter), and they, by their abilities, obtained an ascendancy over him, greater than was perhaps consistent with strict prudence. Of his powers in the science, no better description can be given, than that by Mr. Jackson of Exeter, in his “Four Ages,” to which entertaining miscellany we may refer our readers. Some have spoken highly of Gainsborough’s musical performance. Mr. Jackson says, that though possessed of ear, taste, and genius, he never had application enough to learn his notes. He scorned to take the first step; the second was of course out of his reach; and the summit became unattainable.

However trifling in these amusements, he was steady and manly in the prosecution of excellence in his art, though not without some degree of that caprice peculiar to his character. After his death many opinions were published in the literary journals of his merit. From these we shall select the following, chiefly from, sir | JoshuaHeyHolds’s lectures, which appears to approach nearest to the sobriety of just criticism.

His style of execution, as well as choice of subjects, was original, although considerably resembling that of Watteau, more particularly in his landscapes. His pictures are generally wrought in a loose and slight manner, with great freedom of hand, and using very little colour, with a great body of vehicle; which gives to his works great lightness and looseness of effect; properties extremely valuable in a picture, and too easily lost in the endeavour to give more strict and positive resemblance of substance. Sir Joshua Reynolds in his fourteenth lecture says of this hatching manner of Gainsborough, that his portraits were often little more than what generally attends a dead colour as to finishing or determining the form of the features; but, “as he was always attentive to the general effect, or whole together, 1 have often imagined (says he) that this unfinished manner contributed even to that striking resemblance for which his portraits are so remarkable. At the same time it must be acknowledged that there is one evil attending this mode; that if the portrait were seen previously to any knowledge of the original, different persons would form different ideas; and all would be disappointed at not finding the original correspond with their own conceptions, under the great latitude which indistinctness gives to the imagination, to assume almost what character or form it pleases.

In the same lecture, which principally treats of the acquirements of Gainsborough, and which was delivered at the royal academy soon after his death, by its truly exalted president, it is said of him, “that if ever this nation should produce genius sufficient to acquire to us the honourable distinction of an English school, the name of Gainsborough will be transmitted to posterity in the history of the art among the first of that rising name.” " Whether he most excelled in portraits, landscapes, or fancy pictures, it is difficult to determine: whether his portraits were most admirable fAr exact truth of resemblance, or his landscapes for a portrait-like representation of nature, such as we see in the works of Rubens, Rysdael, or others of these schooJsi In his fancy pictures, when he had fixed upon his object of imitation, whether it was the mean and vulgar form of a wood-cutter, or a child of an interesting character, as he tlid not attempt to raise the one, so neither did he lose any | of the natural grace and elegance of the other; such a grace and such an elegance as are more frequently found in cottages than in courts. This excellence was his own, the result cJ his particular observation and taste. For this he was certainly not indebted to any school; for his grace was not academical, or antique, but selected by himself from the great school of nature; where there are yet a thousand modes of grace unselected, but which lie open in the multiplied scenes and figures of life, to be brought out by skilful and faithful observers.

Upon the whole we may justly say, that whatever he attempted he carried to a high degree of excellence. It is to the credit of his good sense and judgment that he never did attempt that style of historical painting. for which his previous studies had made no preparation.

Nothing could have enabled Gainsborough to reach so elevated a point in the art of painting without the most ardent love for it. Indeed his whole mind appears to have been devoted to it, even to his dying day; and then his principal regret seemed to be, that he was leaving his art, when, as he said, “he saw his deficiencies, and had endeavoured to remedy them in his last works.” Various circumstances in his life exhibited him as referring every thing to it. “He was continually remarking to those who happened to be about him, whatever peculiarity of countenance, whatever accidental combination of figures, or happy effects of light and shadow occurred in prospects, in the sky, in walking the streets, or in company. If in his walks he found a character that he liked, and whose attendance was to be obtained,- he ordered him to his blouse and from the fields he brought into his paintingroom stumps of trees, weeds, and animals of various kinds; and designed them not from memory, but immediately from the objects. He even framed a kind of model of landscapes on his table composed of broken stones, dried herbs, and pieces of looking-glass; which he magnified, and improved into rocks, trees, and water: all which exhibit the solicitude and extreme activity that he had about every thing relative to his art; that he wished to have his objects embodied as it were, and distinctly before him, neglecting nothing that contributed to keep his faculties alive; and deriving hints from every sort of combination.” He was also in the constant habit of painting by night, a practicevery advantageous and improving to an artist, for, by this | means he may acquire a new and a higher perception of what is great and beautiful in nature. His practice in the progress of his pictures was to paint on the whole together; wherein he differed from some, who finish each part separately, and by that means are frequently liable to produce inharmonious combinations of forms and features.

Gainsborough was one of the few artists of eminence this country has produced who never was indebted to foreign travel for his improvement and advancement in painting. Some use, indeed, he appears to have made of foreign productions; and he did not neglect to improve himself in the language of the art, the art of imitation, but aided his progress by closely observing and imitating some of the masters of the Flemish school; who are undoubtedly the greatest in that particular and necessary branch of it. He frequently made copies of Hubens, Teniers, and Vandyke, which it would be no disgrace to the most accurate connoisseurs to mistake for original pictures at first sight. What he thus learned, he did not, however, servilely use, but applied it to imitate nature in a manner entirely his own.

The subjects he chose for representation were generally rery simple, to which his own excellent taste knew how to give expression and value. In his landscapes a rising mound and a few figures seated upon, or near it; with a cow or some sheep grazing, and a slight marking of disstance, sufficed for the objects; their charm was the purity of tone in the colour; the freedom and clearness of thfc touch; together with an agreeable combination of the forms; and with these simple materials, which appear so easy as to be within every one’s grasp, but which constantly elude the designer who is not gifted with his feeling and taste, does he always produce a pleasing picture. In his fancy pictures the same taste prevailed. A collage girl; a shepherd’s boy; a woodman; with very slight materials in the back-ground, were treated by him with so much character, yet so much elegance, that they never fail to delight.

In the spring following Gainsborough’s death, an exhibition was made at his house in Pall Mall, of his pictures and drawings. Of the former there were fifty-six; of the latter one hundred and forty-eight; with several pictures of the Flemish and other masters, which he had collected during his life-time. They were announced for sale, and | their prices marked in the catalogue, and several were sold. Some time after, the whole remaining collection was sold by auction, and brought good prices. Among his attempts were the portraits of Garrick and Foote, but he did not succeed according to his wish, which he used to excuse by saying that “they had every body’s faces but their own,” a very pertinent remark, as applied to the portraits of dramatic personages.

Mr. Edwards mentions three etchings by the hand of Gainsborough. The first is small, and was done as a decoration to the first “Treatise on Perspective,” which was published by his friend Mr. Kirby; but it is curious to observe, that what little of perspective is introduced, is totally false; but from the date of that work Gainsborough must have been at that time very young. The second is an oak tree, with gypsies sitting under it boiling their kettle; the size 11 J inches by 17. Both these were finished by the graver, though not improved, by Mr. Wood. The third, a more extensive view, represents a man ploughing on the side of a rising ground, upon which there is a windmill; the sea terminates the distance. This he called the Suffolk Plough. It is extremely scarce, for he spoiled the plate by impatiently attempting to apply the aquafortis, before his friend, Mr. Grignion, could assist him, as was agreed. Its size 16 inches by 14. He also attempted two or three small plates in aqua tinta, but was not very successful with them, as he knew little of the process.

This eminent artist had a nephew, Gainsborough Du­Pont, a modest and ingenious man, who painted portraits with considerable success, but died at the early age of thirty, in January 1797. His principal work is a large picture (for which he received 500l.) of all the Trinity masters, which is in the court- room of the Trinity-house upon Tower-hill. 1

1

Edwardt’s Supplement to Walpole’s Anecdotes. Malrne’s Life and Works of sir Joshua Reynolds. Nortlicote’s Life of sir Joshua. Rees’s Cyclopædia. —Gent. Mag. vol. LVIII. Sketch of the Life of Gainsborough, by Thicknesse, 12mo, 1788. Jackson’s Fcmr Ages, 1798, 8vo,