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Thomas Gainsborough RA, 1727–1788, British
The Gravenor Family
ca. 1754
Oil on canvas
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:
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
On view
Curatorial Comment:
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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,2007-01
Exhibition History:
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The Conversation Piece - Arthur Devis & His Contemporaries (Yale Center for British Art, 1980-10-01 - 1980-11-30)

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

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

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

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)

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

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

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)

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

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

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

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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, 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)

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)

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)

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)

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

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) Detached from RA, no.96 (2007:Autumn)

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

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)

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)

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