Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

WRITTEN by the curator of Gainsborough’s House in Suffolk and a tie-in to Tate Britain’s exhibition, this is the first published study of Gainsborough’s early life and the establishment of his reputation as an artist. The author rather sniffily comments on the Tate exhibition that it only “partly examines the work Gainsborough produced in Suffolk and provides inadequate building blocks for his extraordinary achievements in Bath and London”.
Whatever “inadequate building blocks” means in this context.

Gainsborough goes straight to the heart of the English psyche and is much more highly regarded than his much grander contemporary Sir Joshua Reynolds. Gainsborough looked to the softer, gentler side of his most imposing sitters and as he loved the charm of the English landscape he often combined figures with a landscape, with a genre scene of happy peasants and grateful beggars, or at least a few cattle and the odd dog inserted.

Hugh Belsey’s finely illustrated good-value book has five chapters, including Learning in Suffolk and London, Landscape Into Art and Re-viewing the Landscape, in which he discusses one of Gainsborough’s most famous early works, his portrait of Mr and Mrs Andrews of 1750.

With his local knowledge the author comments “that the lush crop in the picture is more lush than this particular land would allow”. Good analysis of a number of Gainsborough’s key early portraits, all probably driven by the need to be rid of the debt that so beset the artist, who was described as… “so crammed with genius of every kind that it is in danger of bursting upon you, like a steam-engine overcharged”.