In London Gainsborough resided in the west wing of Schomberg House on Pall Mall, holding regular exhibitions at his studio. The artist’s relationship with the Academy and its first president Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) proved to be uneasy, however, and by 1783, Gainsborough had stopped showing his work at its annual exhibitions.
Both in his day and after, Thomas Gainsborough has been widely acclaimed as one of the greatest artists of the 18th century. Often known for his distinctive portraiture of the mercantile and upper classes, Gainsborough was the first important British artist to consistently paint landscapes, helping to establish the genre of landscape painting in England.
Throughout the 18th century, landscape painting was considered a rather lowly branch of art. However, Gainsborough was innovative in often fusing the genres of landscape and portraiture within a single composition – as seen in his most famous work, the double portrait of Mr and Mrs Andrews from 1748 (National Gallery, London). While Gainsborough did sell some of his landscapes, he found portraiture to be the more lucrative genre.
At the height of his career from the 1760s onwards, the demands for Gainsborough’s portraits were such that he suffered from overwork. His earlier, rather stiff likenesses of local gentry and the professional classes had transformed into more naturalistic representations demonstrating the artist’s flair for capturing a sitter’s personality. In his later years, Gainsborough expanded his subject matter further, focussing on mythological and so-called ‘fancy’ pictures with a stronger narrative content.
Unlike many other artists of his era, Gainsborough was an avid draughtsman. His painting method in particular was technically sound, and his portraits – often using thin paint applied in light, feathery strokes – were celebrated for their naturalism and fluidity. He was an experimental artist, using a wide range of drawing or printmaking techniques, pioneering such practices as soft-ground etching and aquatint, and the use of unconventional materials (such as smalt and skimmed milk) for his paint mixtures and drawings.
Gainsborough was heavily influenced by Dutch landscape painting of the 17th century. During his early years in London as a student, he would have been exposed to a rich variety of images from the Continent, through the capital’s flourishing art trade and by visiting private collections. From the 1760s onwards, his growing confidence resulted not only from more sophisticated patronage in Bath and London, but also from his knowledge of important artists such as Anthony Van Dyck (1599–1641), Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), and other celebrated Old Masters.
The artwork of Thomas Gainsborough can be found in the collections of many of the world’s finest museums and art galleries. In the United Kingdom, Gainsborough’s House holds the most comprehensive collection of Gainsborough’s paintings, drawings and prints within a single setting – that of his childhood home in Sudbury, Suffolk.
Museum collections containing Gainsborough’s art in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere worldwide are listed below. Please let us know if you have any information pertaining to the whereabouts of other original works by Thomas Gainsborough in museum or gallery collections.
National & Regional Museum Collections in the United Kingdom
- The British Museum
- The Courtauld Institute of Art, London
- Tate Britain
- National Portrait Gallery
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- Royal Collection Trust
- The National Gallery
- The Royal Academy of Arts
- Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
- The Wallace Collection, London
- The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
- Kenwood House
- The Whitworth, Manchester
- The Holburne Museum, Bath
- Manchester Art Gallery
- Norfolk Museums
- Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
- Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
- National Museums Liverpool
- Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
- Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle
- Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter
Scotland, Ireland and Wales:
- National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh
- National Museum Wales, Cardiff
- Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums
- Ulster Museum, Belfast
- Bowes Museum, County Durham
Museum Collections in the United States
- Yale Center for British Art, Connecticut
- The Huntington, California
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
- The Morgan Library & Museum, New York
- National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
- Harvard Art Museums, Massachusetts
- Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
- Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California
- The Frick Collection, New York
- Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
- Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
- Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan
- Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio
- Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota
- Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri
- Denver Art Museum, Colorado
- Kimbell Art Museum, Texas
- Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, New York
- The J. Paul Getty Museum, California
- Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami, Florida
- University of Iowa Museum of Art
- Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts
Museum Collections Worldwide
- Dunedin Public Art Gallery, New Zealand
- Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
- National Gallery of Victoria, Australia
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
- National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
- The Prado, Madrid
- Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
- The Louvre, Paris
- Museo d’Arte della Città di Ravenna
- Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
- The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg
* The above institutions are listed in descending order based on the number of artworks they own by Thomas Gainsborough.