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Holburne Museum Presents Gainsborough Landscapes

The Holburne Museum presents Gainsborough’s Landscapes: Themes and Variations, the first exhibition in fifty years devoted solely to his landscape paintings and drawings, bringing together remarkable works from public and private collections, many of them little known and some not previously exhibited. For Gainsborough, if portraiture was his business, landscape painting was his pleasure, and his landscape paintings and drawings reveal his mind at work, the extraordinary breadth of his invention and the dazzling quality of his technique. Exhibition on vie until 2/01/2012.

Thomas Gainsborough, Landscape with a View of a Distant Village, late 1740s or early 1750s, 75 x 151cm Edinburgh, © National Gallery of Scotland

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) sold relatively few of his landscape paintings, and none of his drawings, but he regarded them as his most important work. His paintings do not represent real views, but are creations ‘of his own Brain’, as he put it. A limited number of rural subjects exercised his imagination from one decade to the next, changing as he developed an increasingly energetic ‘hand’, or manner of painting, and becoming ever grander in conception.

The exhibition includes some of his most famous and popular works including The Watering Place from the National Gallery (the most famous of all his landscape compositions in his life-time) and less well-known works such as the little-seen but ravishing Haymaking from Woburn. The paintings have been selected to represent six landscape themes; the remarkable drawings and prints show Gainsborough returning to these themes and demonstrate the longevity of each theme and the degree of experimentation that was involved in the search for the perfect composition.

The evolution of Gainsborough’s style is traced from early naturalistic landscapes in the Dutch manner, enlivened with small figures (pictured above), to grand scenery that is dramatically lit and obviously imaginary, such as the Romantic Landscape from the Royal Academy of Arts. In the Girl with Pigs, from the Castle Howard Collection, a rustic figure takes centre stage: fancy figures of this kind are, in Gainsborough’s art, closely integrated with his landscape practice.

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated book, written by Susan Sloman and published by Philip Wilson Publishers for £14.99. The book will be available from all good bookshops from 30 September. Following the show at the Holburne Museum the exhibition will travel to Compton Verney from 11 February to 10 June 2012.

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