THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH 1727-1788
with Figures on a Path
Price on application. Request photo file.
Oil on canvas 19½ x 23¾ inches.
British Institution: Memorial Exhibition in honour of the late William Hogarth, Richard Wilson, Thomas Gainsborough and Johann Zoffany, London, 1814, catalogue number 22 or 38.
Hugh Belsey, ‘Thomas Gainsborough; The Portraits, Fancy Pictures and Copies after Old Masters’, Yale University Press, 2019, Grigby portrait
no.422, notes, p.420.
John Harcourt Powell, Argyle Street, London, by 1814;
by descent to his son, John Harcourt Powell, Beighton, Suffolk;
descent to his son, Thomas Harcourt Powell, Drinkstone Park, Suffolk;
Mrs. John Harcourt Powell, Drinkstone Park, 1943;
Christie’s, London, 1991;
Sotheby’s, London, 9 June 1998;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dublin;
Private collection, Dublin
Landscape with Figures on a Path, a true copy after Jacob van
Ruisdael (1626-1682}, is a recent discovery, which adds to the catalogue of works by Thomas Gainsborough. Historians have traditionally
cited Joshua Grigby (1731-1798), Drinkstone Park, Suffolk, as the first recorded owner of the painting
together with a subsequent descent through the Grigby family. However, an 1814
exhibition at the British Institution disproves this. According to the
exhibition catalogue, the lender of the painting was H. Powell Esq. This
reveals that the painting came to Drinkstone Park through the marriage of John Harcourt Powell
to Joshua Grigby’s daughter, Lucy, in 1786.
The 1814 event was a memorial exhibition in honour of William Hogarth, Richard Wilson, Thomas Gainsborough and Johann Zoffany.
At least fifty-six paintings by Gainsborough were included. All were from private collections apart from two works lent by the Royal Academy. Powell loaned numbers 22 and 38, both described
in the catalogue as ‘Landscape in his early manner’. The second painting
lent by Powell was the large landscape referred to below, traditionally described as a view of
Drinkstone Park, and now in the Sao Paolo Museum, Brazil.
The Powell family were landowners with estates and residences in at least
fifteen of the most prosperous counties, including Suffolk. It is quite
that John Harcourt Powell's father, Harcourt Powell, M.P. (1718-1782), commissioned
the work directly from Gainsborough. The taste of the wealthy
landowning class of the mid-eighteenth century was for opulent portraits.
Landscapes took second place and fulfilled mostly the requirement for chimneypieces,
which were usually painted in an earlier style. In East
Anglia, there was a demand for Old Master landscapes, fostered by a long tradition
of general trading with the Dutch through the local ports. We don’t know precisely when the two
Gainsborough landscapes were first hung in Drinkstone Park.
As the property descended from one generation to the next, the correct description of the current
work was lost.
However, this was resolved when the painting was auctioned in London in 1998.1
A subsequent review of paintings in the Beit collection at Russborough House, Co. Wicklow, led to the identification of the
painting as an exact copy of Ruisdael’s Grainfield
Beside a Road. The work is the only extant example of a true Old Master copy among Gainsborough's landscapes.
Jacob van Ruisdael: Grainfield beside a road, c.1660-65.(Beit Foundation, Ireland).
by side, first
impressions are that both paintings are by the same hand. Adriaan Waiboer
suggests that for Gainsborough to have achieved such a precise reproduction,
he must have worked directly from Ruisdael's original canvas although close
study reveals minor variations.2 Waiboer points out that the foreground figure
in the Gainsborough is slightly more stooped than his counterpart in the Ruisdael and that there are slight
differences in the drawing of the clouds. In the former, just above the
cornfield to the left is a hovering bird, which does not appear in the
Ruisdael although all of the others are are reproduced in precise detail. In spite
of these slight discrepancies, there is no doubt that Gainsborough’s intention
was to paint a precise reproduction. A tracing of one painting superimposed over the
other confirms that all the main features fall into place with only
one minor discrepancy. Gainsborough’s canvas is one inch narrower than the Ruisdael.
To overcome this, Gainsborough adjusted the drawing of the hedgerow to the
right of the path.
The distinctive buildings on the
horizon identify Ruisdael’s landscape as a distant view of the village of Muiderberg. Pieter Biesboer has confirmed
that the architecture of the church is consistent with various
depictions of the same village by Rembrandt and a number of other artists
working about this time.3 He points out
that the area of Muiderberg, located on the coast of
the Zuider Zee, now known as the Ysselmeer, was surrounded
by sand dunes. Just outside the village, on the banks
of a small river that ran in the direction of Naarden,
there were two windmills, which are included in minute detail on the horizon in
both of the current works. Biesboer points out that there were grainfields in this area and suggests that this further
favours the identification. He draws our attention to three other paintings by Ruisdael: the View of
Naarden with the church of Muiderberg
in the distance is the most important from our point of view as it depicts
a ruined church with two windmills to the left, all closely resembling those
depicted in our landscapes;4 Ruins of an old church at Muiderberg in winter,
which shows another view of the village
with corresponding architecture5 and Landscape near the ruins of
the old church at Muiderberg, which gives a closer view of the
church with compatible detail.6 Despite slight differences in the
shape of the windows, Seymour Slive suggests that the identification of the church is further supported by an etching from
Geertruyd Roghman’s survey of the
villages surrounding Amsterdam.7 Slive points out that Ruisdael would not
have felt the necessity to reproduce the church windows in precise detail.8
Gainsborough was twelve or thirteen
years of age when he was sent to London to develop the skills he had displayed
since childhood. In 1740, he became a pupil of
Hubert-François Gravelot and spent the following three years or so working
under Francis Hayman at the Old Academy of Arts in St. Martin’s Lane. By 1745
he had established his own studio in
Hatton Garden. Survival depended upon building a successful portrait practice
but commissions were hard to secure for an unknown artist. To make ends meet,
he assisted some of the more established painters and took in restoration and
general work. He painted small landscapes in the Dutch style, which according
to an obituary in the Morning Chronicle, he frequently sold to dealers for trifling
prices. The distinctive skies are the most common feature of these
early works but they were not confined to his landscapes. The celebrated
portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Andrews, (National Gallery, London) for example, is set in
front of a sky, which could have been taken directly from the present painting.
The trees, hedgerows and cornfields are also worthy of comparison.
By 1746, Gainsborough had developed an outstanding ability to handle complex
techniques. this is evident in paintings such as Extensive
landscape with chalky banks (National
Gallery of Ireland), painted circa 1746-47. In a highly proficient approach to
perspective, Gainsborough creates an illusion of space and distance by
incorporating a winding track, which falls into a pool of water just beyond the
foreground. It reappears in the middle distance and again in the far distance
before it disappears in a final curve towards the horizon. The contour of the
clouds mirrors that of the landscape; an advanced technique which enhances the
illusion and encourages the eye to travel on to the horizon. The scale of the
composition is set by an intricate series of motifs placed along the track and
on both sides of the high ground above it. Amongst all of Gainsborough’s early
work, this is perhaps the painting that comes closest to the Dutch naturalists.
However, within a very short time,
there is a remarkable change of style, which may have been inspired by a desire
to depict the landscape of his native counties. This first becomes noticeable in
Wooded landscape with peasant resting (Tate
painted circa 1747, in which a remote hamlet is viewed from the edge of a woodland.
Indeed, he was so successful in this that the painting was mistaken for a view
of Dedham for many years. Wooded landscape with peasant sleeping by a track (São Paulo Museum, Brazil) is a closely related painting. The work has long been regarded as a reversal of Ruisdael’s
La forêt. However, the differences between the two paintings are so
extreme that the Gainsborough must be regarded as an original composition in
its own right. The painting was previously known as A view of Drinkstone
Park, the error perhaps stemming
from Drinkstone’s manmade lake, which is not dissimilar to that in the São Paulo
examination of Landscape with Figures on a Path indicates that
Gainsborough followed not only the imagery of the Dutch masters but also their methods.
Pigment analysis discloses a double ground, the lower layer of which is a warm
orange fawn consisting of lead white and orange ochre, which closely resembles
that used by Gainsborough in many of his paintings. The upper ground layer is a
greyish pink made up of
lead white, lamp black and orange ochre, which shows through the final glazes
in parts of the sky, a common feature of 17th century Dutch
landscape painting. The purplish grey of the clouds is comprised of a mixture
of lead white, charcoal black and a small amount of crimson lake, a method
closely resembling that of Ruisdael. The yellow of the wheatfield is mainly a
mixture of yellow ochre (iron oxides) and lead white. This light yellow mix
produces a similar colour to the lead-tin yellow, which Ruisdael might have
is quite thinly applied in semi-translucent and opaque
layers. In certain passages, the paint was applied in such
a dilute state that it ran into the brushstrokes of the underlying
layer. The trunk of the central tree, for example, runs into the thicker
paint of the horizon line. Apart from than the broad
hog’s hair brushwork of the upper ground, much of the painting is executed with
fine point brushes. The foreground brushstrokes on the corn ears, for example, are
extremely fine and were applied with a sable brush. The corn in the middle
distance is dabbed to create depth.
Opaque layers have been applied over transparent layers on the horizon
line to create mid-tones, which enhance the impression of distance.9
DMP - An extract - full text on request.
Christie’s, 1991 as ‘follower of Thomas Gainsborough’. Subsequently. the painting was
fully ascribed to Thomas Gainsborough, Sotheby’s, London, and sold 9th June 1998, lot no.3. In
private correspondence, David Moore-Gwyn,
head of British Paintings at Sotheby’s, confirms that the late Dr. John Hayes saw the
painting and established the attribution and date of 1746 to 1748.
correspondence, Adriaan Waiboer, curator of Northern European Art at the
National Gallery of Ireland.
correspondence, Dr. Pieter Biesboer, Curator, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem,
Slive: 'Jacob van Ruisdael. A complete catalogue of his paintings, drawings and etchings', New Haven, 2001, No.78, pp.104-105.
Ibid. No.76, p.102
Ibid. No.77, pp.102-103.
Ibid. N.77a, p.103.
8 Private correspondence, Dr. Seymour Slive, Fogg Museum of
Art, Harvard University, U.S.A.
9 Sheldon and Gardner, University College London. (UCL report F1904).
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