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Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)

Gainsborough was one of the leading English portrait painters in the late 18th century.

Born in Suffolk in 1727, Gainsborough was the son of a wool manufacturer. At 13 years old he was sent to London to train as an artist and by 1745 he had established his own studio. He later moved to Ipswich and in 1959 settled in Bath, painting portraits for his wealthy clients. Soon his popularity grew as clients became aware of his charming and imaginative portraits.

We love a genius for what he leaves and mourn him for what he takes away
Thomas Gainsborough

In 1772 Gainsborough took on an apprentice, his nephew Gainsborough Dupont. In 1774 he relocated back to London as an established, fashionable portrait painter.

Gainsborough was known for his fierce rivalry with Joshua Reynolds although their styles were somewhat different; Gainsborough was less classical in style and wasn’t afraid to take risks. He often painted his sitters in fashionable, contemporary clothing. Unlike Reynolds, Gainsborough became a favourite of King George III.

Although he was a founding member of the Royal Academy, Gainsborough withdrew in 1784 after a row about how his pictures were hung!

Although his main income came from portraits, Gainsborough’s real passion was for landscapes and his private letters reveal his frustration at the constant demand for portraits.

Gainsborough died in London in 1788, but not before reconciling with his great rival Reynolds.