Thomas Gainsborough Biography

Thomas Gainsborough




Painter, draughtsman, and printmaker Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk, England in 1727. He is often credited as an originator of the British Landscape school along with painter Richard Wilson, for though he was a popular portraitist, his preference was to portray landscapes. 

Gainsborough was the son of weaver John Gainsborough, who took note of his son's early interest in art and in 1740 sent him to train in the arts in London, including with engraver Hubert Gravelot. He quickly became attracted to and associated with the William Hogwarth school, and was assistant to designer Francis Hayman.

In 1746, newly married and barely making ends meet with his landscape paintings, he relocated to Sudbury where he began painting portraits. Though his popularity for these portraits increased year by year, he wasn't exposed to the clientele on whose visages other artists made their living. He moved to Bath with his family in 1759, hoping to attract the fashionable society. He soon made a name for himself and in 1761 began sending work to the Society of Arts exhibition in London (now the Royal Society of Arts) and the Royal Academy's annual exhibitions.

Gainsboroughs reputation was well enough known to afford the artist more flexibility in what he painted. He also began experimenting with new forms of printmaking: aquatint and soft-ground etching. 

The 1770s and 1780s saw Gainsborough's work in full maturity as he began incorporating his portrait sitters into landscapes, a style for which he became famous enough to produce invitations by Royalty to paint their portraits. With time, he became England's most dominant portraitist of the late 18th century along with Richard Wilson. Despite his popularity, however, Gainsborough wrote in a letter, "I am sick of portraits and wish very much to take my viol-da-gam and walk off to some sweet village, where I can paint landskips (sic)..." In time, he became as well known for his landscapes as for his portraits. 

Gainsborough died in London in 1788.