British Museum guidebook, £3.50
Height: 359.000 mm
Width: 258.000 mm
Prints and Drawings
Thomas Gainsborough, Self-portrait of the artist sketching, a pencil drawing
England, about AD 1754-57
Thomas Gainsborough sometimes said that while painting portraits was his profession, landscape painting was his pleasure. In this unique self-portrait he has combined both features of his art. Gainsborough has chosen to depict himself seated informally on the ground and sketching directly from nature, which is telling of his close personal affinity with the landscape.
In the portrait, Gainsborough has shown himself as a recently-established young artist. He wears a three-cornered hat, long coat, dark breeches, white stockings and smart buckled shoes.
Like his portraits of this period, described by an early biographer as 'truly drawn, perfectly like, but stiffly painted', the figure of the artist is awkward. This is partly because the figure was first drawn on a separate piece of paper. Gainsborough then cut out his figure and laid it down on the landscape background. The outline of one piece of paper over another is clearly visible.
Gainsborough is shown here drawing with his left hand, although we know that he was right-handed. This indicates that like most self-portraits, this one was made with the use of a mirror.
The British Museum holds the richest collection in existence of Gainsborough's drawings and purchased this, his only known self-portrait drawing, on the bicentenary of Gainsborough's death in 1988.
S. Foister, R. Jones and O. Meslay, Young Gainsborough, exh. cat. (National Gallery, London, 1997)