The methods of the two painters are sufficiently indicated by their respective treatment of Mrs Siddons. Reynolds, when the portrait was finished, signed his name along the edge of her robe, in order to send his name "down to posterity on the hem of her garment". Gainsborough made no attempt, as he had no wish, to record the art of "Queen Sarah"; but he was interested in the woman as she rustled into his studio in her blue and white silk dress. Her hat, muff and fur delighted him, and he proceeded to paint her as though she were paying him a call. As an actress, she was one of those sitters with whom he could be informal; and while drawing her striking profile, he is said to have remarked, "Damn it, madam, there is no end to your nose." The man who made such a remark was, clearly, no courtier, but a brusque and friendly being, concerned to rid his sitter of all sense of restraint. For a painter's studio is to the sitter a nerve-racking place.
Gainsborough had from the first shown peculiar skill in representing his sitters as out-of-doors, and thus uniting portraiture with landscape. In his youth he had painted a portrait of Mr and Mrs Andrews sitting in a wheat-fieM - a lovely picture, fresh as the dew of morning, in which Gainsborough's two major interests seem almost equally balanced; and at the close of his career his love of scenery sometimes prevailed over his interest in human beings, and resulted not so much in a portrait as in a picture of a garden or a park, animated by gallant men and gracious women. The tendency to prefer the scenery to the persons animating it reaches a climax in the famous canvas "Ladies Walking in the Mall". It is a view of the central avenue of the Mall, near Gainsborough's residence, behind Carlton House. The identity of the fashionable ladies taking an afternoon stroll in the park is happily ignored. The rustling of the foliage is echoed, as it were, in the shimmer of the ladies' gowns, so that Horace Walpole wrote of the picture that it was "all-a-flutter, like a lady's fan". It has the delicate grace of Lancret or Pater, and betrays the painter's ingenious escape from his studio to the greenest retreat.
on the Art of Thomas Gainsborough
"Whether he most excelled in portraits, landscapes or fancy-pictures, it is difficult to determine [...] This excel-lence was his own, the result of his particular observation and taste; for this he was certainly not indebted [...] to any School; for his grace was not academical, or antique, but selected by himself from the great school of nature [...]
[...] The peculiarity of his manner or style, or we may call it - his language in which he expressed his ideas, has been considered by many, as his greatest defect. But... whether this peculiarity was a defect or not, intermixed, as it was, with great beauties, of some of which it was probably the cause, it becomes a proper subject of criticism and enquiry to a painter. [...]
[...] It is certain, that all those odd scratches and marks which, on a close examination, are so observable in Gainsborough's pictures; ... this chaos, this uncouth and shape-less appearance, by a kind of magic, at a certain distance assumes form, and all the parts seem to drop into their proper places; so that we can hardly refuse acknowledging the full effect of diligence, under the appearance of chance and hasty negligence. [...]
[...] It must be allowed, that the hatching manner of Gainsborough did very much contribute to the lightness of effect which is so eminent a beauty in his pictures." [...]
6) Eighteenth Century Lanscape
By the time of Hogarth's death in 1764, a new genera-tion had already established itself in London, with a new kind of art and a new attitude to art. By 1750, a number of native-born artists were making very fair .livings in branches other than the "safe" one of portrait-painting. There were distinguished painters in landscape, sea-painting, and animal painting, quite apart from Hogarth's innovation of satirical comic painting. For Englishmen it may be true that landscape and animal painting, and to an extent sea-painting, have always been best loved when they retain something of portraiture - are portraits, in fact, recognizable likenesses of their own parks, houses, or towns, of their cities, of their ships or sea-battles.
The best landscapes painted in England at the closje of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centu-ries were topographical in nature. In marine painting the leading figure was Samuel Scott (1702-1772), a contemporary of Hogarth, who began by painting in the manner of Van de Veldes, but who later switched to townscape almost certainly in answer to a demand that had been created by Canaletto. His (Canaletto's) paintings were widely known here, brought back by young Englishmen^as perfect souvenirs, before he himself came in 1746. Scott, following close in Canaletto's footsteps in his views of London, caught perhaps more of the veil of moisture that is almost always in English skies. But Scott lacked the Venetian's spaciousness and the logic of picture-making.
Richard Wilson (1714-1782) developed a stronger, more severe style, in which the classic inspiration of the two French masters of the Italian landscape, Claude and GaspardPoussin, is very clear; as also, rather later, is that'of "the broad shimmering golden visions of the Dutchman, Cuyp.
Wilson's English work of the sixties and seventies, more various than is often thought, is at its best of a calm, sunbasking, poetic distinction; to the English landscape he transferred something of the miraculously lucid Roman light, in which objects in the countryside can seem to group themselves consciously into picture. On other occasions Wilson found in the Welsh and in the English scene a ra-diant yet brooding tenderness, the placid mystery of wide stretches of water, over which the eye is drawn deep into the picture to the far Haze on the horizon where sight seems to melt. Sometimes he also made a bid to align his compositions with the classic example of Claude by peopling them with classic or mythological figures.
The most remarkable of Gainsborough's landscapes have, in fact, only found a full appreciation this century. These are very early landscapes,
painted in Suffolk about 1750; strictly they are not pure landscapes as they include portraits, but the synthesis of the two genres is so perfect that the pictures become portraits of more than a person - of a whole way of life, of a country gentry blooming modestly and naturally among their woods and fields, their parks and lakes. The directness of characterization is so
traightforward as to seem almost naive. The light on land and tree and water has a rainwashed brilliance, and a strange tension of stillness - sometimes it is almost a thunderlight.
In his later pure landscapes, the woodenness melts under the brush of a painter who loved the radiant shimmering fluency of his medium as perhaps no other English painter has ever done.
Wilson and Gainsborough form the two main peaks in eighteenth century landscape painting.