Gainsborough was one of the great masters of 18th century painting in Britain, best known for his portraits.
Thomas Gainsborough was born in May 1727 in Sudbury, Suffolk, the son of a cloth merchant. He showed artistic skills at an early age. When he was 13 he was sent to London to study drawing and etching with the French engraver Hubert Gravelot.
Gravelot had been a pupil of the great French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau, whose influence on Gainsborough was strong. In London, Gainsborough also associated with English painters William Hogarth and Francis Hayman.
Around 1749, Gainsborough returned to Suffolk, where he lived and worked for a decade. His portraits were mainly of local gentry and merchants. In 1746, he married Margaret Burr and they had two daughters.
In 1759, ambitious to win more commissions, Gainsborough moved to the fashionable spa town of Bath. His sitters were now authors, actors and members of high society. In 1768, he was elected a founder member of the Royal Academy of Arts.
In 1774, he moved to London, settling in Schomberg House on Pall Mall where he built a studio in the garden. In 1780, he was commissioned to paint portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte. Gainsborough became a royal favourite, fuelling his rivalry with the official court painter Sir Joshua Reynolds.
In 1784, Gainsborough quarrelled violently with the Royal Academy over the hanging of his pictures. He withdrew them and from then on exhibited his pictures in his own studio. Gainsborough claimed to prefer painting landscapes to portraits, but the latter were much more lucrative and it is for portraits such as 'Mr and Mrs Andrews', 'The Blue Boy' and 'The Morning Walk' that he is most famous.
Gainsborough died of cancer on 2 August 1788.
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