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Creator:
Thomas Gainsborough RA, 1727–1788, British
Title:

The Gravenor Family

Former Title(s):

Mr. and Mrs. John Gravenor and their Daughters, Elizabeth and Dorothea [1985, Cormack, YCBA Concise Catalogue]

John and Ann Gravenor, with their daughters

Date:
ca. 1754
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
Support (PTG): 35 1/2 x 35 1/2 inches (90.2 x 90.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1977.14.56
Classification:
Paintings
Collection:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
costume | daughters | family | field | girls | group portrait | husband | landscape | man | metaphor | portrait | square | trees | wife | women
Associated People:
Gravenor, Ann
Gravenor, Elizabeth
Gravenor (née Colman), Ann
Gravenor, John, apothecary
Access:
On view
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:5004
Export:
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After training with Hubert-François Gravelot, Francis Hayman, and George Lambert in London, Thomas Gainsborough returned to Suffolk and established himself as a portrait and landscape painter in the provincial port town of Ipswich. He introduced his clientele, which included local gentry and professionals, to the fashion for conversation pieces in the latest French style. Here he presents John Gravenor, a local apothecary and politician, Gravenor’s wife, Ann, and their two daughters in a productive country landscape. They sit beneath two trees at the edge of a cornfield, the interwoven trunks suggesting marital harmony and the corn representing the blessings of a fertile union. Gainsborough often worked up multifigure compositions from lay figures—small wooden dolls that could be posed for artists to work from—a practice he learned in London. He slowly abandoned these conversation pieces in Ipswich in favor of bust-length portraits such as the portrait of Susanna Gardiner (shown nearby).

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016



John Gravenor was a successful apothecary in Ipswich, the town to which Gainsborough moved from his native Sudbury in 1752. In 1754, Mr. Gravenor turned his hand to local politics, and it is likely that he commissioned this portrait of his family to celebrate his new role in public life. With him are his second wife, Ann (née Colman), and their two daughters, Elizabeth and the younger Ann. The nearly square format suggests that the picture was originally intended to be used as an over-mantel, while the crossed tree-trunks allude quite specifically to the condition of matrimony. We do not know if Mr. Gravenor actually owned the corn field extending back into the distance on the right, but the easy manner in which his wife and daughters are depicted sitting so comfortably at the edge of it suggests that this may indeed be so.

Gallery label for An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)



John Gravenor was a successful apothecary in Ipswich, the town to which Gainsborough moved from his native Sudbury in 1752. In 1754, Mr. Gravenor turned his hand to local politics, and it is likely that he commissioned this portrait of his family to celebrate his new role in public life. With him are his second wife, Ann (née Colman), and their two daughters, Elizabeth and the younger Ann. The nearly square format suggests that the picture was originally intended to be used as an over-mantel, while the crossed tree-trunks allude quite specifically to the condition of matrimony. We do not know if Mr. Gravenor actually owned the corn field extending back into the distance on the right, but the easy manner in which his wife and daughters are depicted sitting so comfortably at the edge of it suggests that this may indeed be so.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2005
This charming group portrait was painted in the provincial port city of Ipswich, where the young Gainsborough labored in relative obscurity early in his career. John Gravenor, a local apothecary and politician, his wife, Ann, and their two daughters are shown as if resting during a pleasant walk in the country. Gainsborough has chosen a square canvas, an unusual format that indicates that the portrait may have been intended to serve as an overmantel.

The square shape of the picture support lends The Gravenor Family an insularity and formal harmony. This sense of enclosure within the landscape is accentuated by the wheat and the intertwined trees (symbols of the Gravenors' matrimonial harmony). The seated younger daughter leans in toward her mother, and Gainsborough's vivid brushstrokes in the storm clouds on the right further envelop the family in their natural setting. Although the sitters look out toward the viewer, rather than conversing among themselves, they are a remarkably coherent family group.

The writer Philip Thicknesse described visiting Gainsborough's studio in Ipswich around the time the artist was working on the portrait of the Gravenors. According to Thicknesse, there were "several portraits truly drawn, perfectly like, but stiffly painted." Also on view were landscapes, which gave Gainsborough "infinite delight" and which Thicknesse deemed far superior to the artist's portraits (Thicknesse, 1788, p. 10). In the portrait of John and Ann Gravenor and their daughters the figures are indeed "stiffly painted," but they charm nonetheless.

Cassandra Albinson

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's legacy: a passion for British art : masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p.257, no. 35, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)



Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of the Gravenor family dates from the years during which he lived and worked in Ipswich, near his native Sudbury in Suffolk. Not having found a sufficient clientele in Sudbury, Gainsborough and his family had moved to the larger town of Ipswich in 1752. The portrait depicts John Gravenor and his second wife, Ann (née Colman), with their two daughters Elizabeth and Ann, seated in a verdant landscape. Mr. Gravenor was a successful apothecary in Ipswich, and in 1754 he turned his hand to local politics. It is possible that he commissioned this portrait to celebrate his new role in public life.

Using dappled light to unify his composition, Gainsborough makes both the landscape and figures in The Gravenor Family vibrate with vitality, despite the relaxed poses of the sitters. The storm clouds looming in the background and the feather-like leaves that seem to rustle as our eyes move across the canvas combine to foretell a showery end to the Gravenors' outing, ostensibly spent plucking wildflowers from the flourishing wheatfields around Ipswich. By juxtaposing the darkening storm clouds in the background with the brightness of his sitters' faces, Gainsborough cleverly draws our eyes to their countenances, the focal points of any portrait, while he emphasizes the pervasive effects of the landscape in which they pose. The almost humorous, rubicund features of Mr. Gravenor contrast with thoseof his wife and daughters, pearl-like, and impart to him an air of healthy vigor. On the whole, the artist treats the features and dress of the Gravenors as he does those of the landscape around them-he eschews topographical and physiognomic detail for overall effect.

From early in his career Gainsborough received his greatest inspiration from the landscape, painting the countryside around Sudbury and later often copying the great seventeenth-century Dutch landscape masters, such as Aelbert Cuyp and Jacob van Ruisdael. At the same time he was always acutely aware of the realities of making one's living as a painter, eventually expressing his frustrations at the demands of his patrons who desired only to buy portraits: "a Man may do great things and starve in a Garret if he does not conquer his Passions and conform to…that branch which they will encourage and pay for."[1] Cleverly, if somewhat awkwardly at first, he fused his innate skills at representing landscape with his portraits of local gentry.

The Gravenor Family exemplifies Gainsborough's personal interpretation of the Rococo idiom as practiced by Francis Hayman and Hubert Gravelot, colleagues and mentors to the younger artist during his training in London in the 1740s. In fact, due in part to its stylistic affinity with some of Hayman's portraits of that period, The Gravenor Family was long thought to date from 1747-48. The sinuous if somewhat awkward forms of the figures, the nervous lines of their clothing, and the cool tones of the silks and satins recall Hayman's version of the "English Rococo." On the other hand, Gainsborough's palette and his particular method of modeling and shaping surfaces with flame-like brushstrokes-particularly noticeable in fabrics-give to his portraits of the 1740s and 1750s a shimmering quality that is quite distinctive; one modern critic aptly described the dress of the younger Gravenor daughter, seated in the foreground, as akin to a splendid piece of rococo silver or plaster-work decoration.[2]

Julia Marciari-Alexander

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, pp. 8, 9, 54, no. 15, fig. 8, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

Yale University Art Gallery 2015-2016 (Yale University Art Gallery, 2015-02-01 - 2016-01-05)

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Royal Academy of Arts, 2007-10-20 - 2008-01-27)

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)

Thomas Gainsborough (Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 2003-06-15 - 2003-09-14)

Thomas Gainsborough (National Gallery of Art, 2003-02-09 - 2003-05-04)

Thomas Gainsborough (Tate Britain, 2002-10-24 - 2003-01-12)

Great British Paintings from American Collections: Holbein to Hockney (The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2002-02-01 - 2002-05-05)

Great British Paintings from American Collections: Holbein to Hockney (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-09-27 - 2001-12-30)

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of South Australia, 1998-09-16 - 1998-11-15)

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Queensland Art Gallery, 1998-07-15 - 1998-09-06)

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1998-05-01 - 1998-07-05)

Manners and Morals - Hogarth and British Painting 1700-1760 (Tate Britain, 1987-10-15 - 1988-01-03)

Thomas Gainsborough (Tate) (Musée du Louvre, 1981-02-07 - 1981-04-26)

Thomas Gainsborough (Tate) (Tate Britain, 1980-10-07 - 1981-01-04)

The Conversation Piece - Arthur Devis & His Contemporaries (Yale Center for British Art, 1980-10-01 - 1980-11-30)

Acquisitions : The First Decade 1977-1986, Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1986, pp. 4, 13, no. 16, fig. 5, N590.2 A7 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p.257, no. 35, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Hugh Belsey, Thomas Gainsborough, a country life , Prestel, Munich London, 2002, pp. 50-51, NJ18 G16 B463 2002 (YCBA)

Hugh Belsey, Thomas Gainsborough: The portraits, fancy pictures and copies after old masters, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, p. 412-413, cat. 412, NJ18.G16 B453 2019 (LC) Oversize (YCBA)

Mark Bills, Early Gainsborough: 'From the Obscurity of a Country Town', Gainsborough's House Society, Sudbury, Suffolk, United Kingdom, p. 109, fig. 16, NJ18.G16 B55 2018 (LC) Oversize (YCBA)

Colnaghi, the history , Colnaghi, London, 2010, p. 48, fig. 2, N8660. C65 C65 2010 + (YCBA)

Commune di Milano (Palazzo Reale), Pittura inglese 1660-1840, due secoli di cultura, storia e costume in Inghilterra : milano, Palazzo reale, 29 gennaio-16 marzo 1975 , Electra, Milano, 1975, no. 34, ND466 P53 (YCBA)

Malcolm Cormack, A Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 96-97, N590.2 A83 (YCBA)

Malcolm Cormack, The paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, New York, 1991, pp. 52-53, no.11, NJ18 G16 C66 1991 (YCBA)

Ellen G. D'Oench, The Conversation Piece: Arthur Devis & his contemporaries, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1980, pp.19, 72, cat. no. 55, fig. 13, NJ18 D5151 D64 OVERSIZE

Frank Davis, Talking About Sale-Rooms : an Early Gainsborough Revealed, , Country Life, Vol. 152, September 7, 1972, p. 556, S3 C68+ (YCBA)

Lindsay Duguid, The Recollected Works, TLS, the Times Literary Supplement, Issue no. 5458, November 8, 2007, p. 17, Available Online : TLS Archive Also Available on microfilm : Film S748 (SML)

Elizabeth Einberg, Manners & morals : Hogarth and British painting 1700-1760 : The Tate Gallery., , Tate Publishing, London, 1987, pp. 166-7, cat. 153, NJ18 H67 E55 + (YCBA)

Gainsborough, 1727-1788, Grand Palais, 6 fâevrier-27 avril 1981. , Editions Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, 1981, p. 85, No. 3, NJ18 G16 H393 (YCBA)

Catherine M. Gordon, British paintings Hogarth to Turner, Frederick Warne, London, 1981, p. 24, ND466 G67 (YCBA)

John T. Hayes, Gainsborough: paintings and drawings, Phaidon, London New York, 1975, p. 203, no. 11, pl. 11, NJ18 G16 H395 + (YCBA)

Rica Jones, Gainsborough's Materials and Methods, a Remarkable Ability to make Paint Sparkle , Apollo, v. 146, no. 426, August 1997, pp. 20-21, no. 2, N1 A54 + (YCBA)

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, pp. 8, 9, 54, no. 15, fig. 8, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

Paul Mellon, Reflections in a silver spoon, a memoir , W. Morrow, New York, 1992, btwn pp. 382-3, N5220 M552 1992 (YCBA)

Paul Mellon's Legacy, a passion for British art. [large print labels] , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 3, N5220 M552 +P381 2007, Mellon Shelf (YCBA)

Thomas Pfau, Wordsworth's profession, form, class, and the logic of early Romantic cultural production , Stanford University Press, Stanford, Calif., 1997, p.59, PR5886 P48 1997 (YCBA)

Marcia R. Pointon, Portrayal and the search for identity, Reaktion Books, London, 2013, pp. 143-44, illus. 51, N7575 .P6452 2013 (YCBA)

Kate Retford, The Conversation Piece Making Modern Art in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2017, p. 17, fig. 14, ND1314.4 .R48 2017 (LC) Oversize (YCBA)

Duncan Robinson, Acquisitions : The First Decade 1977 - 1986, , Burlington Magazine, vol. 128, October 1986, p. 4, no. 16, col. fig. 5, N1 B87 128:3 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Michael Rosenthal, Gainsborough, Tate Publishing, London, 2002, pp. 64-65, no. 20, NJ18 G16 G24 2002 + (YCBA)

Michael Rosenthal, The art of Thomas Gainsborough, "a little business for the eye" , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1999, pp. 127,130, 132, no. 124, pl. 124, NJ18 G16 R67 1999 (YCBA)

Lindsay Rothwell, Paul Mellon's legacy, an American's passion for British art : Sackler Wing of Galleries, 20 October 2007 - 27 January 2008 : an introduction to the exhibition for teachers and students. , Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK, 2007, pp. 4-5, no. 35, V 2038 (YCBA)

Desmond Shawe-Taylor, The conversation piece, scenes of fashionable life , Royal Collection Publications, London, 2009, p. 148, fig. 78, ND1304 S43 2009 (YCBA)

Sotheby's sale catalogue : Catalogue of important English Paintings, 19 July 1972, Sotheby's, London, July 19, 1972, pp. 1, 20-21, Lot 41, Auction Catalogues (YCBA)

Roy C. Strong, The British portrait, 1660-1960, Antique Collectors' Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1991, p. 145, 154, col. p pl. 23, ND1314 B743 1991 (YCBA)

Philip Thicknesse, A sketch of the life and paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, esq., London, 1788, p. 10, ND497 G2 T4 (YCBA Rare) Available online in Orbis.

William Vaughan, Gainsborough, Thames and Hudson, New York, NY, 2002, pp. 53, 56, 219, no. 43, NJ18 G16 V28 2002 (YCBA)

Malcolm Warner, Great British paintings from American collections, Holbein to Hockney , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, pp. 82-83, no. 13, ND464 W27 2001 (YCBA)

Giles Waterfield, Mr. Mellon, RA : the magazine for the Friends of the Royal Academy, No. 96, Autumn 2007, p. 71, V 1905 (YCBA)

Mary Webster, Johan Zoffany, 1733-1810, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2011, pp. 114-15, fig. 110, NJ18 Z68 W43 2011 + (YCBA)


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