The present drawing is very similar in handling and subject to the Wooded Landscape with Horses, Cart and Figures (Manchester City Museum and Art Gallery; J. Hayes, The Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough, London, 1970, p. 246, no. 595, pl. 190). Of almost identical dimensions, the sheets both depict figures and animals among loosely, expressively drawn trees, heightened with vivid dashes of white chalk. Hayes dated the Manchester drawing to the mid-1780s, which therefore seems a plausible dating for the present drawing. At this stage in his career, Gainsborough was settled in London and felt confident enough in his work to begin executing more experimental pieces. He had begun to receive commissions from the Royal Family in 1777 and, certain that a secure future lay ahead, he infused his work of this period with a renewed sense of freshness and vitality.
We are grateful to Hugh Belsey for suggesting a date for this drawing of circa 1786. He will include it in 'A second addenda to John Hayes' The Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough', to be published in the December 2008 issue of Master Drawings.