Thomas Gainsborough (Suffolk, 14 May 1727 – London, 2 August 1788) was one of the most important English painters of XVIII century and one of the founding members of the Royal Academy.
Thomas Gainsborough, self portrait
Portraits and landscapes
He studied with the French painter Hubert-François Gravelot. In 1759 he moves with the family to Bath and begins to attract an aristocratic clientele painting mainly portraits.
Mrs. Sarah Siddons, the actress, 1785, National Gallery, London
He was a founding member of the Royal Academy in 1768 and in 1774 moved to London. He became one of the most important artists of his time and the favorite painter of King George III and royal family.
Although the portraits constitute a great part of his work, he continued throughout his life to paint landscapes.
Seashore with Fishermen, 1781 – c.1782
Gainsborough integrated these two themes – portrait and landscape – in an innovative way in many of his works.
He used light and soft strokes creating in his works a notion of fluidity and naturalism. Also his palette of colors was composed by soft tones conjugated with browns.
In Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan portrait it is possible to analyze the main features of Gainsborough’s painting.
Gainsborough | Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan
1785 e 1787. National Gallery , Washington (EUA).
Portrait of Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan (Elizabeth Ann Linley Sheridan), aged 31, integrated in a bucolic landscape.
She is surrounded by trees, dressed as a lady of high society and sitting on a rock. The fabric of her fine garments and her wavy hair are floating in the wind, like the leaves on the crests of the trees. In the background, the sunset is slightly obscured by a distant solitary tree.
The posture of the depicted woman is in accordance with the melancholy of the scene.
The painter uses quick brushstrokes, often only suggesting details (note the hands, fingers tangled in the silk scarf: they are defined by summary brushstrokes only giving a slight suggestion of form). The diaphaneity of the strokes is essential to the painter, conveying rhythm to both colour and shape.
Brushstrokes are almost careless as though to give the idea of merging the delicate silk scarf and the fingers of the woman.
The composition line is diagonal, defined by the seated figure. The design excels for its diaphanous and free lines, organising the composition around Mrs. Sheridan’s face (and thus also eyes and expression).
The dominant colours are autumnal and are distributed diffusely, suggesting the romantic idea of melancholy that, according to reports of the time, matched Mrs. Sheridan’s temperament.
The faltering light of a setting sun (left) reinforces this idea.