Tag Archives: Thomas Gainsborough

Thomas Gainsborough, Jane Austen and Fashionable Society

The Blue Boy, 1770
The Blue Boy, 1770

Thomas Gainsborough is best known as the painter of rustic, sentimentalized scenes like The Harvest Wagon and of ultra-stylized portraits like The Blue Boy, which has achieved iconic status. A year after Gainsborough’s death, Sir Joshua Reynolds chose to celebrate Gainsborough’s “portrait-like representation of nature” and noted that Gainsborough’s excellence was “selected by himself from the great school of nature” (qtd. In Bermingham, 58). Since then, the critical consensus hasn’t much changed; it’s Gainsborough’s innovations in landscape painting that make him the proto-Romantic artist who paved the way for JMW Turner. One could look at Gainsborough’s Cottage Door with Cowper’s “The Task” or Wordsworth’s “An Evening Walk” to get a sense of the perspectives, affects and fantasies that shaped the early Romantic pastoral. This being said, I’m interested in aligning Gainsborough with the writings of the Romantic period along a different axis: it may be productive to read his portraits alongside Austen’s domestic realism. The thinking here is part of a larger project on the two artists that I’m trying to make-work. For now, what compels me about the Gainsborough-Austen connection is not their shared preference for the countryside but their ambivalent representations of fashionable people and places, often associated with the urban. Continue reading Thomas Gainsborough, Jane Austen and Fashionable Society