Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788), Landscape beside a lake, c.1746–1748. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2022.

On Saturday 5 March 2022, the exhibition Young Gainsborough: Rediscovered Landscape Drawings opens at the National Gallery of Ireland.

Twenty-five landscape drawings from the Royal Collection – recently attributed to English artist Thomas Gainsborough – will go on display for the first time in Ireland. Produced in the late 1740s, when Gainsborough was in his early twenties, the drawings offer an intimate glimpse into the early career of this master of portraiture and landscape. To place the works in context, the exhibition will feature other paintings and drawings from Gainsborough’s early years, along with works by the Dutch landscape painters who influenced him. This touring exhibition is a collaboration between Royal Collection Trust; York Museums Trust; the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin; and Nottingham Castle. Additional works have been generously loaned by The National Gallery, LondonThe Fitzwilliam Museum, CambridgeThe Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; and Colchester and Ipswich Museums.

The youngest son of a cloth merchant, Thomas Gainsborough displayed artistic promise from a young age, and much of his youth was spent producing landscape views of his home county of Suffolk, England. He later excelled in the more fashionable and lucrative genre of portraiture, becoming official court painter to George III. Although portraiture brought Gainsborough wealth and fame, his preference for landscape remained a constant throughout his life. He famously wrote in the 1760s: ‘I’m sick of Portraits and wish very much to take my Viol da Gamba and walk off to some sweet Village where I can paint Landskips and enjoy the fag End of Life in quietness and ease.’ Indeed, Gainsborough went on to develop a style of portrait where he integrated his sitter into the landscape.

Anne Hodge, curator of the exhibition, commented: “The 25 drawings at the heart of this exhibition represent an exciting new addition to Thomas Gainsborough’s known oeuvre. Rediscovered recently within the Royal Collection at Windsor, they give a sense of Gainsborough’s youthful enthusiasm for nature. The chalk drawings have an immediacy that allows us to imagine the young artist, sitting on a sandy bank, quickly sketching the trees and vistas near his home in rural Suffolk. The exhibition provides a rare opportunity for us to see his early drawings beside the famous landscape painting Cornard Wood that they inspired.’’

The re-discovered Gainsborough drawings were previously believed to be by the painter Sir Edwin Landseer, having been acquired by Queen Victoria from his studio in 1874. In 2013, art historian Lindsay Stainton identified one of the drawings as a study for Gainsborough’s most celebrated landscape painting, Cornard Wood (c.1748), leading to the reattribution of the drawings to Gainsborough. In this touring exhibition, the study for Cornard Wood will hang alongside the finished painting, newly conserved and loaned by The National Gallery, London, uniting the painting with its preparatory drawing for the first time since they were last together in Gainsborough’s studio. 

Martin Clayton, Head of Prints and Drawings, Royal Collection Trust, added: “We’re delighted to be working with the National Gallery of Ireland on this exhibition – the third show in Dublin from the Royal Collection in recent years. These drawings were a remarkable discovery at Windsor and add immeasurably to our understanding of the young artist, when he was exploring both the countryside around him and his own artistic personality. I’m sure that visitors to the exhibition will be as enchanted by these drawings are we were when they came to light.”

Young Gainsborough: Rediscovered Landscape Drawings is on display at the National Gallery of Ireland from 5 March 2022, closing on 12 June 2022. A programme of events to complement the exhibition will include a talk by Rosie Razzall, former Curator of Prints and Drawings, Royal Collection Trust, on 3 March 2022; a Talk and Tea session; and a free introductory curator’s talk on 8 March 2022.

This exhibition has been organised in collaboration with Royal Collection Trust, York Museums Trust, National Gallery of Ireland and Nottingham Castle.

Find out more at www.nationalgallery.ie

Exhibition listing:

  • Young Gainsborough: Rediscovered Landscape Drawings 
  • Opens: 5 March 2022 
  • Closes: 12 June 2022
  • Print Gallery, National Gallery of Ireland | Free admission 
  • Curator: Anne Hodge

Touring Venues:

  • York Art Gallery, York 1 October 2021 – 13 February 2022 
  • National Gallery of Ireland 5 March – 12 June 2022 
  • Nottingham Castle, Nottingham 2 July – 25 September 2022

Programme:

  • Advance booking required, see nationalgallery.ie
  • Thursday 3 March, 6pm: free advance talk by Rosie Razzall, former Curator of Prints and Drawings, Royal Collection Trust,
  • Tuesday 8 March, 1pm: free introductory talk with exhibition curator Anne Hodge