Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), a modern genius: "I am sick of portraits and wish very much to take my Viol da Gam and walk off to some sweet village, where I can paint landships and enjoy the fag end of life (ca. 1786)." 

Comprehensive exhibition gives insight into the works and world of Thomas Gainsborough 
The Rijksmuseum Twenthe, situated in the eastern part of the Netherlands, wants to bring the three greatest painters from the British Golden Age to the Netherlands. Last year, its exhibition about William Turner, in partnership with the Museum de Fundatie in Zwolle, was a huge success, attracting 240,000 visitors. On 24 March this year, a splendid retrospective exhibition about Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) was launched, which will be running until 24 July. It is curated by Paul Knolle (also Head of Collections and Curator of Fine Arts at the Rijksmuseum Twenthe) and Quirine van der Meer Mohr. The third name on the wish list of the Rijksmuseum Twenthe is John Constable, the famous Romantic Realist landscape painter and water colorist.          

The "Gainsborough in his otemperamenwn words" exhibition in Enschede is the first ever Gainsborough exhibition in the Netherlands. By exhibiting the letters to his friends and customers, written in a very lively, cutting tone, the Rijksmuseum Twenthe lets the painter speak for himself. These letters provide a fantastic insight into the world and life of the artist as well as sketching a picture of the era in which he lived.     


"We are proud to have organized the first ever Gainsborough exhibition in the Netherlands." 

Karin Jongenelen, Head of Marketing and Communications at the Rijksmuseum Twenthe explains, "We're proud to have organized the first ever Gainsborough exhibition in the Netherlands. The works we have on loan mainly come from England, specifically from Gainsborough's House in Suffolk, where he was born. The current exhibition presents a total of 30 oil paintings and more than 30 other works by Gainsborough, such as etchings and drawings. The large series of paintings from Gainsborough's House forms the basis for the exhibition, in which also participates the British Royal Collection, National Portrait Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum and many more."          


"As a museum, what we're doing is focusing less on the paintings themselves, and more on the world in which the artist lived. In addition to the works of Gainsborough, namely portraits and landscapes, we also have many other items that effectively reveal what the British Golden Age was like. For example we have magnificent costumes from that era, which we have on loan from the Gemeentemuseum The Hague, as well as a number of musical instruments, allowing you to see for yourself what a Viola da Gamba is, which is what Gainsborough used to play. We also have a number of inventions from that era, simply to show what life was really like during the 18th century. Inventions such as electrical machines and vacuum pumps, which are genuine 18th-century models, are on display, as well as a model of one of the first steam engines and globes from that era. We also have a reflecting telescope from the mid-1700s and books from that time. The aim is simply to show what life was like back then and to help people gain a better understanding of that period."           


'Wooded Landscape', the only Gainsborough painting in the Netherlands, owned by the Rijksmuseum Twenthe.   

"The Rijksmuseum Twenthe is the only museum in the Netherlands to have a work of Gainsborough." 

Gainsborough remains an enigma in mainland Europe. Karin Jongenelen explains, "The only work of art by Gainsborough that we have in the Netherlands is 'Wooded Landscape', owned by our museum.  This painting is, of course, also on display. It's a really small work, with a few sheep on the heath and a few trees. Gainsborough painted the scene early on in his career, at a time when he was truly inspired by the Dutch landscapes, such as Van Ruisdael and Hobbema. We acquired it in 2011 with the help of the Rembrandt Foundation and a crowdfunding campaign. It's quite unique in the museum world that we were successful with that, and we are still the only museum in the Netherlands to have a work by Gainsborough."         


"The Rijksmuseum Twente is one of the first museums ever to design exhibitions in this way, by providing background information about the painter, bringing his living environment to life and providing a portrait of the era in which he lived. Since 2012, we have been doing things differently, in part thanks to our new director Arnoud Odding, who was faced with a bankrupt museum when he took over. Thanks to his hard work and innovative approach, he managed to help save the museum."         


Thomas Gainsborough: "A major dislike of painting portraits and a strong preference for landscapes." 

The letters written by Gainsborough himself as well as those that friends wrote to him, which the Rijksmuseum Twenthe now has on loan, were taken as a guideline for the exhibition. From these letters, it appears that Gainsborough actually had a major dislike of painting portraits. Karin Jongenelen explains, "He makes it apparent in his own quirky manner by saying that he'd rather make music in particular, and go into nature and paint landscapes. As a museum, we want to venture off the beaten track with Gainsborough and to fill in any gaps in the understanding of European art history. Members of the public aren't familiar with the great English artists, because as an island, England has always been so isolated. We present exactly those things that you would least expect. We don't have a Rembrandt series, but we want to get people thinking via other, great but unknown painters. In the autumn, we're going to be organizing an exhibition about Gerard de Lairesse, a classical painter and graphic artist from the Golden Age. That will be the very first exhibition worldwide of De Lairesse, the greatest painter from the Golden Age alongside Rembrandt, but one who has been completely forgotten. And next year, we're going to be hosting an exhibition of the great Italian Renaissance painters, such as Rafael, Tintoretto and Di Campi, and then all of the great Italian painters will be coming to the Netherlands, with the exception of Michelangelo. If you don't have a different approach like this, with background information and an image of the times in which the painter lived, you can't keep your head above the water in today's cultural landscape."     


Gainsborough was more interested in what was on the inside than painting pretty pictures.   

Mary and Margaret Gainsborough, the painter's daughters, portrayed by Thomas Gainsborough himself. Mary (1750-1826) and Margaret (1752-1820) had difficult lives. As daughters of a fashionable painter they had access to high society - even to the court - but they were never going to be accepted by it. 

When Thomas Gainsborough painted his daughters Mary and Margaret in 1758, the girls were about ten and six. Mary is carefully attending to a tuft of hair on the head of her younger sister, Margaret, who is looking at us endearingly with an innocent gaze. Full of conviction, Gainsborough reveals his love for his daughters, his 'dear' girls. With loose brushwork and the use of daring colours and forms, he knows exactly how to strike the right chord and to move his audience. As Mary and Margaret grew up, they came to be regarded as unmarriageable. When Mary did marry, it was to the temperamental German oboist and composer Johann Christian Fischer. The marriage didn't last. Mary and Margaret later lived together, until Mary descended into mental illness. 


"One of England's most successful artists of all time."

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1739), self-portrait. Reynolds was the first President of the Royal Academy of Arts. He was Thomas Gainsborough's artistic rival.     

Thomas Gainsborough was artist known primarily for his portraits and landscapes. Together with Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was his artistic rival, Gainsborough was one of the most important and successful artists of the eighteenth century; in fact, he's one of England's greatest artists of all time. Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk, England. His father was a weaver involved with the wool trade. At the age of thirteen, he impressed his father with his penciling skills and as a result, his father allowed him to go to London to study art in 1740. In London, he first trained under engraver Hubert Gravelot, but eventually became associated with William Hogarth and his school. One of his mentors was Francis Hayman. During that time, he contributed to the decoration of what is now the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children and the supper boxes at Vauxhall Gardens. Gainsborough made his name primarily as a portrait painter. He died of cancer in 1788 at the age of 61.


Karin Jongenelen explains: "Gainsborough is actually a painter at the turning point of painting. Before Gainsborough and Reynolds, there wasn't a single school of painting in England. With Reynolds, the Royal Academy was founded, of which Gainsborough was also a founding member, in order to raise the standard of painting in England. However, Gainsborough was one of the first to experiment with the way in which paintings were made. He was much more interested in portraying what was on the inside, the person's character, as opposed to painting pretty pictures, which was the custom at that time. For Gainsborough, the character is always the most important thing; these portraits contain a lot more of that. Above is the portrait of his two daughters, with that gesture whereby the daughter on the left seems to be bringing her sister's tuft of hair into order. Gainsborough created very sensitive portraits in one way or another, and he had a very beautiful way of painting. That was something he was evidently simply very good at. His material expression is also extremely beautiful. He manages to imitate the clothing worn by ladies and gentlemen in a completely realistic manner."                

Special loan from the British Royal House  

Portrait of Johann Christian Fischer, by Thomas Gainsborough, Fischer's father-in-law, 1780, the year he married Mary Gainsborough (Royal Collection). 

Splendid portrait of Fischer from the Royal Collection 
The British Royal House still has a large collection of Gainsborough portraits," says Karin Jongenelen. "The portrait of Johann Christian Fischer (see photo left), a German composer and one of the best-known oboe soloists in Europe during the 1770s, was given to George IV in 1809 by the Duke of Cumberland.    

Thomas Gainsborough painted a large number of portraits of the Royal Family. The portrait of Fischer is a wonderful portrait from the Royal Collection and has been assigned a prominent position in the "Gainsborough in his own words" exhibition in the Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede. This is the first time that the museum has had a work from the Royal Family on loan."   

Karin Jongenelen adds, "It is a great and unique honour to be able to exhibit works from English museums and national galleries, because they don't loan their works very readily. Since our Turner exhibition last year, the Rijksmuseum Twenthe has become highly regarded and we can also loan significant works from the Victoria and Albert and the Royal Academy and other prestigious galleries. Last year's Turner exhibition, also the first ever Turner exhibition in the Netherlands, opened a number of doors for us in that regard."     


Gainsborough causes a shift in English painting. 
Thomas Gainsborough lived in a time of great change in terms of British culture. He was perfectly attuned to the spirit of the times and knew how to give shape to it in a convincing manner. His work is full of sensitivity and sensibility. He breaks artistic conventions and causes a shift in English painting: the initiation of romanticism. As mentioned, Gainsborough preferred painting landscapes to portraits. Karin Jongenelen says, "At that time, landscapes were at a very low level. At the Royal Academy, painting landscapes was actually the lowest level possible. He simply couldn't make any money out of it. And by painting portraits, he was able to earn a very good living; due to his popularity, he was simply forced to make portraits in order to make money."      





The exhibition of a modern genius

Portrait of Thomas Gainsborough's wife, Margaret Burr (1728-`1797), Gemäldegalerie Berlin. 

The "Gainsborough in his own words" exhibition comprises works loaned from various collections, which together create a subtle impression of Gainsborough and 18th-century England. His portraits of his wife (Margaret Burr), friends such as David Garrick (National Portrait Gallery) and Joshua Kirby (Victoria and Albert Museum) and customers such as the Duchess of Montagu (Duke of Buccleuch) are exhibited alongside the magnificent, full-length portraits of Johann Christian Fischer (Royal Collection) and Sir Edward Turner (Wolverhampton Arts Gallery). Magnificent landscapes such as Wooded Landscape (National Trust) and Landscape with Figures (Manchester City Galleries) portray his convincing love of nature, the endearing Cottage Door with Girl and Pigs (Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service) and the magnificent portrait of his wife (Gemäldegalerie Berlin) reveal his intimacy, passion and sensibility. A glimpse info life in 18th-century England is provided by a steam pump, an electricity machine and globes (Museum Boerhaave) as well as fantastic books (Koninklijke Bibliotheek), costumes and musical instruments (Gemeentemuseum The Hague). Rijksmuseum Twenthe is openng its doors to the world of Thomas Gainsborough.                       


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