Neoclassicism, Romanticism, & Rococo.
The well-known rival of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, was talented in rendering textures and surfaces and was the leading portrait painter in England during their time. He grew up in the countryside in Suffolk and trained in London, then moved to Bath in 1759, where he attracted many clients for his portraits that had rich tones and feathery brushwork. He was known to be “self made” and unlike Reynolds, didn’t go to Italy to study under the great masters and didn’t go by rules and theories of tradition. His style consisted of straight-forward and somewhat rough brush strokes, similar to Frans Hals, which added a spark to his work, however, his work also remained refined and delicate. Gainsborough didn’t beat around the bush in his work and captured the grace and charm of his subjects. In his work, “Miss Haverfield”, Gainsborough enamours us by bringing life into his subject’s simple yet graceful movement of tying her bow against a fluid landscape background (fig. 1). However, in his letters it’s also revealed that he didn’t beat around the bush about the fact that he didn’t like being commissioned for portraitures, and instead preferred landscapes and rustic scenes, specifically those set in the countryside (fig. 2). Unfortunately, he didn’t get as much commissions or buyers for his landscape work, his landscape work would usually just be sketches of composed landscapes that captured a mood. Personally, although Gainsborough has a certain feel in his rough brushwork that is similar to Frans Hals, I still prefer how Hals added a sense of lighthearted humour into many of his pieces and fleshed out each of his subjects. I still admire Gainsborogh’s ability to capture the essence and fluidity of his subjects, such as the portrait of his daughters (fig. 5) chasing a butterfly. His work isn’t too rigid and binding but at the same time also has a delicate, lifelike detail which makes it warm and personal.
Gombrich, E.H.. The Story of Art. New York: Phaidon Press Inc, 1995.