Enfilade

New Book | Gainsborough’s Cottage Doors

Posted in books by Editor on June 19, 2013

From Paul Holberton:

Hugh Belsey, Gainsborough’s Cottage Doors: An Insight into the Artist’s Last Decade (London: Paul Holberton, 2013), 120 pages, ISBN: 978-1907372506, £25 / $40.

81D9YJ6NfwL._SL1500_The work of Thomas Gainsborough is characterized by a series of subjects that preoccupied him, which with time he was able to hone and define more clearly. Inspired by the recent identification of a third autograph version of his masterpiece The Cottage Door, this book examines the significance of the multiple versions of designs that the artist produced during the 1780s. It demonstrates that without the pressure of exhibiting his work annually at the Academy and without a string of sitters waiting for their finished portraits, Gainsborough’s work became more personal, more thoughtful and searching.

A study of his unconventional background, training and early development as an artist provides some clues as to why Gainsborough came to use painting in this very personal way. It was not until the 1780s, however, that his creative energies really changed in this direction. He had never been happy with the constraints of the Royal Academy and he was at odds with the dictatorial opinions promoted by its president, Sir Joshua Reynolds. In removing himself from the Academy he cast off the shackles of producing paintings, competitive in their design and colouring, which inhibited the artist’s natural goals of likeness, subtlety and balanced tonality. He could now be choosey about the commissions he accepted, paint for his own pleasure and satisfy his own curiosity. He began to turn to portrait compositions that he had developed and refined over a number of years. With subtle alterations they could be made suitable for a variety of sitters. The margin between ‘fancy’ pictures and portraits became blurred and the categorization of some of these paintings changed while they were on the easel. Always finding composition difficult, rather than begin something new he often revisited earlier designs that had pleased him. He would paint them again and make slight changes of tone and emphasis that would radically change the concept and intention of the design.

Richly illustrated with beautiful new photography, this study of the last phase of the artist’s work is a totally fresh interpretation of not only the Cottage Door theme, which Gainsborough revisited over nearly 20 years, but other key late works such as Mrs Sheridan and Diana and Acteon. The subject matter in some of these late work veers towards the autobiographical and provides an invaluable insight into the artist’s personality and his very worrying concerns.

Hugh Belsey is currently Senior Research Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art with the task of writing the definitive catalogue of portraits by Thomas Gainsborough.

Exhibition | Revisiting The Cottage Door: Gainsborough’s Masterpiece

Posted in books, exhibitions by Editor on June 19, 2013

From The Huntington:

Revisiting The Cottage Door: Gainsborough’s Masterpiece in Focus
The Huntington Library, San Marino, 1 June — 2 December 2013

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Thomas Gainsborough, The Cottage Door, ca. 1780
(San Marino: The Huntington)

The Cottage Door (ca. 1780), one of the treasures of The Huntington’s collections, is among Thomas Gainsborough’s most famous paintings. The idealized scene of rustic country life was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1780, but both the subject and the composition continued to haunt the artist, and he repeated the design twice during the course of the decade. All three paintings are shown together for the first time in this special display, providing a unique opportunity to compare the subtle differences among them. Both of the later versions, on loan from private collections, are less finished than The Huntington’s canvas, and there are variations in tone and detail that give each a particular mood and a different emphasis.

A new book by Gainsborough specialist Hugh Belsey, Gainsborough’s Cottage Doors: An Insight into the Artist’s Last Decade, complements the installation. Inspired by the recent attribution of the third version, it examines how Gainsborough freed himself from the constraints of the Royal Academy and was able to make radical changes to his work during the last years of his
life.