The Thomas Gainsborough exhibition will acquaint visitors with the oeuvre of this outstanding painter, one of the founders of the 18th century British artistic school, the favorite artist of King George III, and the most prominent and unique representative of the era that transformed the world of British art. The exhibition will feature about 100 art pieces from 11 leading British museums, as well as from collections of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and the State Hermitage Museum. Unique exhibits from the UK include the ceremonial portrait “Mrs. Elizabeth Moody with her sons Samuel and Thomas,” the last large-scale landscape of the master “The Market Wagon,” and landscapes on glass which are almost never exhibited abroad.
Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788) is rightfully considered to be one of the most significant English artists of the 18th century. It was his portraits that shaped our idea of British society of that time and embody the cultural ethos of British aristocracy. The exhibition opening soon in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts provides a sterling opportunity to see the best works of the artist from British collections. In addition to such long-standing partners of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts as the London National Gallery, the Tate Gallery, and the Royal Academy of Arts, the project involves museums collaborating with Russia for the first time. These include Gainsborough’s House Museum in Sudbury, which owns an extensive collection of the master’s early works; the Holburne Museum in Bath, where the artist spent fifteen years; and London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, featuring brilliant pieces of Gainsborough’s portraiture.
The artistic evolution of Thomas Gainsborough took place at a time when British culture was undergoing a revival that affected not only fine art, but also theater, music, and literature. It was the Gainsborough era that ultimately formed the English artistic school. The artistic language of Thomas Gainsborough was heavily influenced not only by teachers at the London Academy of St. Martin, led by the famous William Hogarth, but also by the leading representatives of the artistic schools of continental Europe. Throughout his life, Gainsborough learned from the old masters and developed his own touch, different from the solemn style generally accepted at that time and represented by his main opponent and rival Joshua Reynolds, president and founder of the Royal Academy of Arts. Gainsborough’s oeuvre played a decisive role in the formation of the British school of painting.
The exhibition in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts is devoted to the development and establishment of Gainsborough’s artistic style, which underwent major changes as a result of the artist’s acquaintance with works of the old European masters.
The first section of the exhibition features the artist’s early works, created shortly after the young master had returned to his native Suffolk after training in London. Gainsborough’s most significant London mentor was Hubert-François Bourguignon, alias Gravelot, a French Rococo painter. French artists were popular in Great Britain at that time. Inspired by Rococo pastoral compositions, Gainsborough began working in the genre of the so-called “conversation piece.” Images of people against a landscape background provided the artist with a unique opportunity to combine portrait with landscape and instill the intonation of frankness and intimacy into formal group portraits.
In the same period, Gainsborough began to show interest in the works of Dutch landscape painters, who were actively filling the London art market. In early landscape pieces of the artist, one can feel the influence of Dutch training albums and the thorough study of nature – a result of the artist’s endless walks around Sudbury.
The second section of the exhibition is devoted to intimate portraits by the artist. Thomas Gainsborough successfully worked in various genres, but in the second half of the 18th century, only custom-made portraits could ensure a solid reputation and a decent income for the British painter. In this area, Gainsborough had to constantly compete with other artists, especially considering that British customers often employed different portrait painters. In addition to the paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, this section includes several works by British artists who were his contemporaries.
One of the main features of 18th century British fine art is the extraordinary flourishing of the child portrait. Many artists recognized this genre, from modest provincial painters to renowned academicians. Gainsborough also stands out here among his contemporaries. The airy children’s images by the artist, who sought to emphasize the fragility inherent in this tender age, markedly differ from the cheerful rosy-cheeked “angels” on the canvases of Joshua Reynolds and his followers.
While Gainsborough’s early portraits are characterized by truthfulness and a certain laconism intrinsic to the Hogarth style, the artist later created a whole gallery of male and female images imbued with almost incorporeal lightness and subtle lyricism.
Masterpieces from the heyday of Thomas Gainsborough, including portraits dedicated to musicians who were friends with the artist, are exhibited in the White Hall. Thanks to these friendships, the artist left a magnificent portrait gallery of the greatest British musicians of the Georgian era. They include Carl Friedrich Abel, composer and viola virtuoso, members of the family of composer Thomas Linley, and singer and strings player Anne Ford. Their portraits will be displayed at the exhibition.
Gainsborough’s late period works are even bolder in composition and are distinctive in their free and easy brushwork. During those years, the artist was impressed by the emotional landscapes of the Dutch artist Jacob van Ruisdael and canvases of the great Flemings – Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. The influence of Rubens on the British artist is evident in his works of the last two decades of his life, while van Dyck served as his example of a talented painter, the embodiment of the Italian concept of sprezzatura – seeming lightness, which masks meticulous work and superb craftsmanship. The exhibition includes works of the old masters, which had a significant impact on the artistic style of Thomas Gainsborough, from Russian and foreign collections.
“The Descent from the Cross,” a large-scale canvas of Rubens copied by Gainsborough and based on an engraving by Lucas Vorsterman, has a special place at the exhibition. The Rubens painting is in Antwerp, which Gainsborough visited much later – in the summer of 1783. It is surprising that the British artist chose this particular work of his idol, since religious scenes were not relevant in 18th century British art, and Gainsborough never addressed similar themes. Clearly, this subject was important for both painters in their own way. Rubens made many sketches for “The Descent from the Cross,” evidencing the long period of time during which he approached this piece. The exhibition features one of these sketches belonging to the State Hermitage Museum collection.
Finally, the last section of the exhibition addresses the graphic works of Thomas Gainsborough and other media used by the artist, who was fond of artistic experiments throughout his life. For Gainsborough, drawing was always the habit that was crucial to his artistic practice; he was continuously opening up new possibilities. Starting with traditional lead pencil sketches, the artist advanced the technique over the years in order to achieve a more “picturesque” effect. The artist’s inclination to experiment is also discernible in his engraving and glass painting works. Gainsborough used a specially designed box with a magnifying glass to display his own painted glass plates. Only ten of these works withstood the test of time. Owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), they are rarely exhibited and practically never appear at exhibitions abroad. The exhibition in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts provides visitors with a unique opportunity to see two landscapes on glass.
The Thomas Gainsborough exhibition is a continuation of the British art cycle. The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts has already featured projects devoted to William Turner (2008), William Blake (2010), Pre-Raphaelites (2013), Aubrey Beardsley (2014), and the London School artists (2019).
The annual International Music Festival “December Nights of Sviatoslav Richter. Walking with Thomas Gainsborough,” which will be held in the museum from December 1 to December 23, will be devoted to the exhibition.
Curator: Anna Poznanskaya, Senior Curator of the Department of 19th and 20th Century European and American Art
The exhibition includes 100 paintings and graphic art works, as well as archival materials
Participating Museums: Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, State Hermitage Museum, Gainsborough’s House Museum (Sudbury, Suffolk), National Gallery (London), Victoria and Albert Museum (London), Tate Gallery (London), National Portrait Gallery (London), Royal Academy of Arts (London), National Galleries of Scotland (Edinburgh), Dulwich Picture Gallery (London), National Trust Collections (Anglesey Abbey, Fairhaven’s Collection), Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), Holburne Museum (Bath), private collection (Russia).
The General Sponsor of the exhibition is Rosneft Oil Company.
входной билет — 500 рублей,
льготный билет — 250 рублей.