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Thomas Gainsborough

British, 1727-1788

Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk, baptized May 14, 1727 and died in London, August 2, 1788.

Portraiture provided Gainsborough's livelihood, but landscapes were his passion. After leaving rural Suffolk for London in 1740, he assimilated French rococo style while training under the engraver Hubert Gravelot. He absorbed a different tradition, earning money by copying and repairing Dutch landscapes, after marrying and establishing his own studio in 1746. In pursuit of patronage, Gainsborough relocated to his native Sudbury in 1748, to the seaport of Ipswich in 1752, and to the resort town of Bath in 1759. Concurrently, his small-scale, realistic portraits evolved into sophisticated confections on the scale of life, rivaling the work of Joshua Reynolds. Gainsborough became a founding member of the Royal Academy in 1768 and re-settled in London six years later. In the early 1780s he painted his first "fancy pictures" (subject pictures drawn from the artist's imagination, or "fancy"). Stubborn and independent, he exhibited only privately after quarreling with the Academy over the hanging of an important painting in 1784. He died of cancer four years later.