Van Gogh •
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Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk. His parents sent him to London when he was fourteen and he spent five years studying art with
Hayman, an English designer and portraitist, and with Gravelot, a French illustrator and engraver. Gainsborough married an heiress when he was nineteen and the couple lived first in Ipswich and then in Bath. Though Gainsborough painted portraits of the landed gentry and nobility to assure himself of his livelihood, his real passion was for landscapes. He frequently managed to combine the two types of art with more than felicitous effects: his portraits lost some of their stiffness of figure because of the natural settings in which they blend so easily. Gainsborough's early familiarity with the great country houses where so much of their work was collected, enabled him to see and to study the works of such masters as Watteau, Rubens, and Van Dyck. If the placing and positioning of Gainsborough's figures show the influence of Watteau's composition, and the fluid techniques he used are said to stem from Rubens, the suave elegance of his later portraits bears the unmistakable mark of Van Dyck refined by Gainsborough's own eighteenth-century manner.
When Gainsborough moved to London in 1774 and set up his own studio, his popularity soon rivaled that of the famous Sir Joshua Reynolds,
perhaps because, unlike Reynolds, Gainsborough never had any difficulty in mastering a likeness. Thus his works have a spontaneity and freshness, a lightness and grace reminiscent of the chamber music that he so enjoyed. Gainsborough's ability to render texture ranging from the lightest gauze to the stiffest satin was superb, as was his ability to create fresh color in both fabric and skin. His very last works have the same lightness that was later found in the works of Renoir. A founding member of the Royal Academy in 1768, Gainsborough broke with that group in 1783 after a quarrel over the hanging of his pictures. Upon his deathbed, he was reconciled to Sir Joshua Reynolds, with whom he had had serious differences on questions of technique.