Exhibition | Gainsborough’s Family Album

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 3, 2018

Looking ahead to the fall with a reminder that paper proposals for the coordinated conference on Portraiture and Biography, to take place at the end of November, are due by 1 February 2018; from the NPG press release (6 December 2017). . .

Gainsborough’s Family Album
National Portrait Gallery, London, 22 November 2018 — 3 February 2019
Princeton University Art Museum, 23 February — 5 June 2019.

Curated by David Solkin with Lucy Peltz

Thomas Gainsborough, The Artist’s Daughters, Mary, and Margaret, Chasing a Butterfly, ca. 1756, 113.5 × 105 cm (London: National Gallery).

The National Portrait Gallery London is to bring together for the first time all twelve surviving portraits of Thomas Gainsborough’s daughters in a major new exhibition, Gainsborough’s Family Album, opening on 22 November 2018. The portraits, which trace the development of the Gainsborough girls from playful young children to fashionable adults, include such famous images as The Artist’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly (ca. 1756) and The Artist’s Daughters with a Cat, (ca. 1760–61). These will be shown alongside rarely seen paintings, such as the grand double full-length portrait of Mary and Margaret Gainsborough as sumptuously-dressed young women (ca. 1774).

Featuring over fifty works from public and private collections across the world, Gainsborough’s Family Album will provide a unique insight into the private life and motivations of one of Britain’s greatest artists. The exhibition will include a number of works that have never been on public display in the UK, including an early portrait of the artist’s father John Gainsborough (ca. 1746–48) and a drawing of Thomas and his wife Margaret’s pet dogs, Tristram and Fox.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1888) was one of Britain’s most successful eighteenth-century portraitists, but in his private correspondence he lamented that the need to earn his living from an endless parade of “damnd Faces” prevented him for pursuing his devotion to landscape, the branch of art he most loved. Nonetheless, he still managed to find the time, the energy and the desire to paint more portraits of his family members than any other artist of his or any earlier period is known to have produced. These include pictures of himself, his father, his wife, his daughters, two sisters and two brothers, a brother-in-law, two nephews, one niece, and a few more distant connections, not to mention his dogs. The vast majority of these works stayed with the family throughout the painter’s lifetime, by the end of which he had single-handedly created an unusually comprehensive visual record of an eighteenth-century British kinship network, with several of its key players shown more than once, at different stages of their lives.

Gainsborough’s Family Album will chart Gainsborough’s career from youth to maturity, telling the story of a provincial artist’s rise to metropolitan fame and fortune. However, alongside this runs a more private narrative about the role of portraiture in the promotion of family values, at a time when these were in the process of assuming a recognizably modern form. The exhibition will both offer a new perspective on Gainsborough the portraitist and challenge our thinking about his era and its relationship to our own.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: “We are delighted to be able to bring together so many of Gainsborough’s family portraits for the first time. The exhibition, which is unique in focusing on his paintings made for love, rather than for money, provides an unprecedented opportunity to see the intimate and personal aspect of Gainsborough’s portraits through this remarkable body of works depicting ‘ordinary people’ from a time when portraiture was almost exclusively confined to the rich, the famous and the upper classes.”

Professor David Solkin, Exhibition Curator and Emeritus Professor of the Courtauld Institute of Art says: “My hope is that Gainsborough’s Family Album will prompt new ways of thinking about Gainsborough and about the family albums that so many of us create.”

Gainsborough’s Family Album is curated by Professor David Solkin, with support from Dr Lucy Peltz, Senior Curator, 18th-Century Collections and Head of Collections Displays (Tudor to Regency), at the National Portrait Gallery. Professor Solkin is one of the world’s leading authorities on the history of British art. He joined The Courtauld Institute of Art in 1986 and completed his career there as Walter H. Annenberg Professor of the History of Art and Dean and Deputy Director. Solkin has published extensively on eighteenth-century art and culture and is the author of four major books, the latest of which are Painting out of the Ordinary: Modernity and the Art of Everyday Life in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain (2008) and Art in Britain 1660–1815 (2015). He has also curated several important exhibitions including, most recently, Turner and the Masters (2009).

Dr Peltz joined the National Portrait Gallery in 2001 as Curator of 18th-Century Collections and has curated several permanent galleries, temporary exhibitions and displays including The Regency in the Weldon Galleries (2003–); Brilliant Women: 18th-Century Bluestockings (2008); Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance (2010–11) and Simon Schama’s Face of Britain (2014–15), a project which resulted in a television series, a Viking-Penguin book, and an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

David Solkin, Ann Bermingham, and Susan Sloman, Gainsborough’s Family Album (London: National Portrait Gallery Publications, 2018), 192 pages, ISBN: 978-1855147904, £30.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated book featuring fifty beautifully reproduced portraits from public and private collections around the world. The book includes essays by exhibition curator David Solkin, Ann Bermingham, Professor Emerita of Art History at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Susan Sloman, independent art historian and author of Gainsborough in Bath.

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