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

A country house surrounded by trees

Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. (Sudbury, Suffolk 1727-1788 London)
A country house surrounded by trees
black and white chalk on buff paper, with a fleur-de-lis and W watermark
11 x 15 in. (27.9 x 38.1 cm.)
Henry Scipio Reitlinger (L.2274a) (†); Sotheby’s, London, 27 January 1954, lot 141 (£12 to Squire Gallery).
with Squire Gallery, London.
H. S. Reitlinger, Old Master Drawings: A Handbook for Amateur Collectors, London, 1922, p. 173, pl. 64.
M. Woodall, Gainsboroughs Drawings, London, 1939, p. 125, no. 268.
J. Hayes, The Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough, London, 1970, p. 259, under no. 654.

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Lot Essay

The motif of the country house appears in Gainsborough's paintings from around 1770 and a decade later he returned to the subject in a number of drawings. The fictive nature of the architecture derives from the classical buildings that appear in works by the seventeenth-century Franco-Italian artist, Gaspard Dughet. The houses have become anglicized with the odd chimney stack added to hint at the country’s weather but, although there have been attempts to identify the topography, the views are purely imaginary. His purpose was to shift the emphasis of a composition from figures to hard-edged buildings as he enjoyed juxtaposing them against the softer forms of the surrounding foliage.
There are two versions of this particular drawing and John Hayes incorrectly assumed that the Reitlinger version was a copy of the better known drawing now in a British private collection that descended until the 1990s in the family of the artist’s sister, Susannah Gardiner. The present newly discovered drawing was previously owned by the distinguished collector Henry Reitlinger who first published the sheet in 1922. The handling of the chalks and the energy of the marks confirm the attribution to Gainsborough. There are telling differences between the two sheets that show a development between them which suggest that the Reitlinger drawing is the earlier of the two. The urn finial shaped like a boat on the pillar in front of the house becomes a stone ball in the Gardiner version, the figure striding up the hill towards the house is more prominent and the lamb beneath the tree in the centre is less clearly defined. Each feature suggests that the artist is honing details of his design to give the drawing greater structure and emphasis.
This sheet shows Gainsborough’s characteristic grace of composition. As he wrote to his friend the musician, William Jackson, ‘one part of a Picture ought to be like the first part of a Tune [so] that you can guess what follows’, and his intuitive handling of the media and careful arrangement of elements in this drawing is rarely equalled.
We are grateful to Hugh Belsey for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.

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