Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review: Gainsborough’s Family Album at the National Portrait Gallery from 22 November 2018 to 3 February 2019

Exhibition Review: Gainsborough’s Family Album at the National Portrait Gallery from 22 November 2018 to 3 February 2019


The National Portrait Gallery bring together for the first time all twelve surviving portraits of Thomas Gainsborough’s daughters in a major new exhibition entitled Gainsborough’s Family Album. The exhibition features over fifty works from public and private collections across the world and include a number of works that have never been on public display in the UK.

Thomas Gainsborough, (1727–88) was a founding member of the Royal Academy and is considered one of Britain’s most important eighteenth-century portraitist, best known for his paintings of Mr and Mrs Andrews (c. 1748–1750), The Morning Walk, Portrait of Mr and Mrs William Hallett (1785), Her Grace, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (1787), Mrs. Sarah Siddons (1785) and The Blue Boy (1779).

Despite his success as a portraitist, Gainsborough’s first love was landscape, in the exhibition is one of his best known landscape works, The Harvest Wagon painted around 1767.

Although Gainsborough is known for his formal portraits, this exhibition explore another side to his works which is portraits of his family members. These include pictures of himself, his father, his wife, his daughters, two sisters and two brothers, a brother-in-law, two nephews, one niece, a few more distant relatives and his dogs.

The highlight of the exhibition is Gainsborough’s paintings of his daughters which range from The Artist’s Daughters chasing a Butterfly (c.1756) and The Artist’s Daughters with a Cat, (c.1760-1) to the grand full-length portrait of Mary and Margaret Gainsborough as fashionable young women (c.1774).

The exhibition also features an oval portrait by Thomas Gainsborough of his nephew and apprentice, Gainsborough Dupont which has recently been cleaned by the National Portrait Gallery conservation studios. The exhibition is the first time in over 100 years, this painting has been lent from its home at Waddesdon Manor.

The Gainsborough’s Family Album exhibition charts Gainsborough’s career from his early life in Suffolk to considerable success in Bath and finally finding his fame and fortune in London. Unusually, Gainsborough used portraits to show his own journey but also of his wife and daughters.

This exhibition is fascinating on a number of levels, Gainsborough in his pictures of his daughters as children, shows a delicate and tenderness for his subject that is often missing in his formal portraits. He also has more freedom is setting the pictures in a number of landscapes and backgrounds. The exhibition seems to confirm that Gainsborough wanted a record of his kinship network for posterity and undertook much of the work himself. Many artists would have made drawings of their family network but very few would have undertaken to paint so many family portraits.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information, visit the National Portrait Gallery website here

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