Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. (Sudbury, Suffolk 1727-1788 London)
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Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. (Sudbury, Suffolk 1727-1788 London)

Cattle and a drover on a lane passing a cottage

Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. (Sudbury, Suffolk 1727-1788 London)
Cattle and a drover on a lane passing a cottage
with inscription ‘1817 WE. Lamberts coll P45 N54/Gainsborough’ (verso in the hand of William Esdaile)
black chalk and stump
11 1/8 x 14 7/8 in. (28.3 x 37.8 cm.)
possibly Charles Lambert (L. 589) by 1817.
William Esdaile (L. 2617) (†); Christie’s, London, 16 March 1838, lot 822 (£1.2s to Cavendish)
William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire, and by descent to
Anonymous sale; Christie’s, London, 8 November 1994, lot 10.
with Leger Galleries, London, 1995.
with Lowell Libson, 2003, where purchased by the present owner.
J. Hayes, ‘Notes on British Art: The Holker Gainsboroughs’, Apollo, LXXX, June 1964 Supplement, pp. 2-3, fig. 3.
J. Hayes, The Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough, London, 1970, pp. 34 and 225, no. 636, illustrated pl. 194.
Leger Galleries, British Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings, 1995, pp. 30–4.
L. Libson, H. Belsey & P. Bower, Themes and Variations: Thomas Gainsborough, The Art of Landscape, 2003, pp. 11, 12, 21, 38-9, illustrated, p. 39.
L. Libson, The First Five Years, London, 2007, p. 26–7.
H. Belsey, 'A Second Supplement to John Hayes' 'The Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough', Master Drawings, XLVI (4), Winter 2008, pp. 431-32, illustrated, fig. 5.
London, Tate Gallery, Thomas Gainsborough, October 1980–January 1981, no. 37, illustrated
Washington, National Gallery of Art, Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum and New Haven, Yale Center for British Art Gainsborough Drawings, July - September 1983, no. 71, illustrated.
London, Leger Galleries, British Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings, 1995.
New York, Lowell Libson, Themes and Variations: Thomas Gainsborough, The Art of Landscape, 2003, no. 4.
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Iona Ballantyne
Iona Ballantyne

Lot Essay

Until its sale in 1994 this striking black chalk drawing was one among a group of five sheets probably collected by William Cavendish for Holker Hall in Cumbria. He was later to become the 7th Duke of Devonshire and he grew to be especially fond of his estate on the edge of the Lake District. After the death of the 8th Duke in 1908 the estate (and the drawings) passed to the Duke’s great nephew, Lord Richard Cavendish. Eighty-five years later the drawings were sold at Christie’s. This is the finest drawing from the group.

Gainsborough's portrait practice stalled after his move from Bath to London in 1774. This lessening of studio work gave the artist the opportunity to be more reflective and experimental. Making landscape drawings was a relaxation for him and at this time he developed the range and content of such works. This study includes imposing mountains in the background, deep wooded ravines and the bold arc of a precipitous track on the right that is made more dramatic by the contrast with the nonchalant progress of the five cows passing the cottage.

Gainsborough often sought inspiration from prints after older masters and for this sheet he chose a print by Jean-Baptiste Chatelain dated 1744 that reproduces a landscape by Gaspard Dughet in the collection of the Duke of Portland (fig. 1). Another print in the same series by James Mason after Filippo Lauri provided the inspiration for an Italianate lake scene from the same series of drawings (now Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury, fig. 2). Both drawings were reproduced in soft-ground etching and aquatint by the young Thomas Rowlandson for his group of prints entitled Imitations of Modern Drawings (Gainsborough's House, Sudbury, fig. 3). Gainsborough must have helped Rowlandson chose the images for his publication and so it is reasonable to assume that the artist considered that these two drawings were particularly successful.

The sheet also shows interesting technical developments in the artist’s work. Gainsborough was amongst the earliest British artists to use wove paper and to exploit its special qualities. Wove paper has a consistent thickness which makes it stronger than laid paper. In this Holker drawing Gainsborough exploited the paper’s strength by using stump to give the mountains and clouds a distant perspective. For stumping, the artist used a pointed roll of cardboard or leather vigorously rubbed over the chalk to smudge and soften the hard lines, enabling him to produce a tonal rather than a linear effect. Gainsborough had long used black and grey washes and superimposed black and white chalks on them to give a drawing definition but this new technique was more immediate with no need to wait for the washes to dry before the chalk could be added. Furthermore, the result is blacker, more intense, and a drawing could be completed at one sitting. By restricting the medium, the artist’s vision was liberated as it could be realised much quicker.

This remarkable drawing, in exceptional condition, has the strength of design modelled on an old master and the unerring certainty of line that can only be achieved by a master draughtsman.

We are grateful to Hugh Belsey for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.

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