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Thomas Gainsborough RA, 1727–1788, British

A Woodland Pool with Rocks and Plants

Former Title(s):

Boulder in a Stream at the Foot of a Tree

Additional Title(s):

Study of Rocks and Plants

Study of a Woodland Pool with Rocks and Burdock Leaves

Landscape with Rocks and Pool

A Bulder in a Stream at the foot of a Tree

between 1765 and 1770
Watercolor, black and white chalk, and oil paint, with gum on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper, backed with laid paper
Sheet: 9 x 11 3/8 inches (22.9 x 28.9 cm)

Watermark: Fleur-de-Lys

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
bark | boulder | foliage | grass | landscape | pond | rocks (landforms) | stream | tree | trees | water | woodland
Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
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This may well be a drawing of one of the so-called foregrounds in miniature that Gainsborough constructed out of stones, mosses, and mirrors in his Bath studio. He assembled and then sketched these miniature tabletop landscapes as a means of composing the feathery trees, gnarled stumps, rocky outcroppings, and pools of water that appear in his landscapes, portraits, and genre scenes. Gainsborough was also, however, devoted to the practice of drawing the motif directly from nature. The painter Ozias Humphry, a neighbor of Gainsborough's in Bath, recalled that the two artists would often take afternoon sketching excursions into the countryside (Hayes and Stainton, 1983., p. 9).

Whatever the mechanics of the creation of this drawing, it demonstrates a change in style and technique that evolved during his Bath period. Previously, the artist had drawn mostly with pencils. In the 1760s the ever-inventive and experimental Gainsborough began to make mixed-media drawings with watercolor, chalk, oil paint, and gum arabic, among other things. Combining these materials allowed him to achieve dramatic chiaroscuro and texture in his works on paper. Here, he emphasizes the rock in the middle distance, touching it with white paint and a dash of acidic green suggestive of moss or lichen in tone and texture.

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, cat. no. 36, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Thomas Gainsborough is perhaps the most naturally gifted and fluent of all British draftsmen. He seldom produced drawings as finished, saleable works; and, though he did make drawings in preparation for paintings, mostly he drew just for the pleasure it gave him. That pleasure informs the character and quality of his draftsmanship. It was in the act of drawing and in the creation of landscape compositions that he found an escape from the onerous business of painting portraits.

In Gainsborough's landscapes an early naturalism rooted in the example of seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting is succeeded by, but not wholly gives way to, a more abstract language of landscape forms, which not only recalls aspects of Claude's and Dughet's landscapes but echoes the composite method of Alexander Cozen (cat. 45) [B1975.4.1480]. Both A Hilly Landscape with Figures Approaching a Bridge [B1998.14.1] and A Woodland Pool with Rocks and Plants [B1975.4.1198] date from Gainsborough's period residence in Bath (1759-74). A Hilly Landscape with its flickering light effects and variety of touch embodies the developing Picturesque aesthetic. It also marks a movement away from the Dutch-inspired naturalism of his years in Suffolk to a more synthetic approach, in which his landscapes are constructed from a repertoire of recurring formal elements.

A Woodland Pool With Rocks and Plants demonstrates that Gainsborough had not wholly abandoned natural observation for the play of his fancy. Yet just how natural is this drawing? The Gainsborough scholar John Hayes has characterized the work as "a study from nature," yet we know from Gainsborough's friend Uvedale Price that he assembled in the studio "roots, stones and mosses, from which he formed, and then studied, foregrounds in miniature."

In the hands of theorists such as Price, the idea of the Picturesque was expanded from Gilpin's conception, based on the paintings of Claude, to include rustic and low life genre scenes. Gainsborough's own taste for idyllic scenes of rustic peasant life played a key role in Price's thinking. Wooded Landscape with Figures [B1977.14.4697], a drawing from the end of Gainsborough's life, together with the painting which he developed from it, Peasant Smoking at a Cottage Door (University of California at Los Angeles), represent the culmination and the most monumental statement of this line of imagery in Gainsborough's work.

Scott Wilcox

Wilcox, Forrester, O'Neil, Sloan. The Line of Beauty: British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2001. pg. 63 cat. no. 48

A loan exhibition of English drawings and watercolours from the collection of Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon of Upperville, Virginia, P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London, 1964, cat. no. 12, N5247.M385 L62 (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. 36, pl. 36, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Ann Bermingham, Landscape and ideology, the English rustic tradition, 1740-1860 , Thames and Hudson, London, 1987, pp. 337-38, fig. 17, ND1354.4 B47 1987 (YCBA)

Malcolm Cormack, Oil on water, oil sketches by British watercolorists , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1986, p. 32, fig. 25, ND467 C67 (YCBA)

John T. Hayes, Gainsborough drawings, International Exhibitions Foundation, Washington, D.C., 1983, pp. 23, 116-17, no. 48, col. pl. 48, NJ18 G16 H392 (YCBA)

Painting in England 1700-1850, collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon. , Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 1963, p. 62, no. 58, ND466 V57 v.1-2 (YCBA)

Yale University Art Gallery, English drawings and watercolors, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, April 15 - June 20, 1965 , New Haven, 1965, cat. no. 12, NC228 Y34 (YCBA)

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