n astute biography casts a new light on thomas gainsborough

1696Kathryn Hughes at The Guardian:

Thomas Gainsborough’s early masterpiece, Mr and Mrs Andrews (c1750), has long been read as a celebration of that pivotal moment in mid-Georgian Britain when man managed to wrestle nature to its knees and tell it what to do. To one side of the painting are the recently married Robert and Frances Andrews, a lucky young couple handsomely dressed in a rustle of linen, satin and soft leather. Significantly, though, the pair are posing not in the library or hall of their manor house but out in the grounds, in the well-worked, wheat-covered bit of Suffolk’s loamy Stour valley that provides the capital on which their combined fortune depends. In the far distance you can just make out the tower of All Saints’ Church where this alliance between two local landowning families – one gentry, one trade – has recently been settled to everyone’s satisfaction.

Gainsborough painted the happy couple, not to mention their happy acres, with such a zesty freshness that it’s a shock to learn that, until the picture was bought by the National Gallery in 1960, Mr and Mrs Andrews was kept hidden away by the family, like some mad aunt in the attic. James Hamilton, the author of this richly humane biography of the artist, thinks he knows why. Hamilton suggests that, far from being a servile recorder of other people’s good fortune, young Tom Gainsborough was never afraid to blurt out inconvenient truths, much in the manner of his great hero William Hogarth.

more here.