- Museum number
Self-portrait; the artist seated in profile to left, beneath a tree, sketching
Graphite; the artist drawn on a separate piece of paper attached to sheet
- Production date
Height: 359 millimetres
Height: 531 millimetres
Width: 446 millimetres (frame measurement)
Width: 258 millimetres (sight measurement)
- Curator's comments
- This drawing is discussed in all of the exhibition catalogues mentioned under 'location' and more recently in Jeffrey Hopes, 'Sketching from Life: Philip Thicknesse's "A Sketch from the Life and Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough" (1788), in P. Wagner, F. Ogée, R. Mankin and A. Hescher, eds, 'The Ruin and the Sketch in the Eighteenth Century', Trier, 2008, p.114-6.
The following text is from S. Lloyd and K. Sloan, 'The Intimate Portrait' (exh. SNPG & BM, 2008-9), cat. no. 53:
Gainsborough painted a few self-portraits in oils, but this is the only surviving self-portrait drawing. It was originally drawn on another sheet from which the figure was cut out and then placed on the current landscape background and the edges blended in. The figure is close to Gainsborough's drawing style and a painted self-portrait (private collection) of the mid 1750s but the landscape is closer to those later in the decade. Another drawing in the British Museum also shows a man sketching in a landscape and using a Claude glass (Oo,2.27); it was purchased by Richard Payne Knight at Gainsborough's sale and has often been described as a self-portrait. However, it is far more of a sketch than this finished drawing and with another similar drawing of a man with a Claude glass (Morgan Library, NY) was probably a study for a more finished work. The present drawing is a finished work in itself and was probably framed and treasured by Gainsborough's widow and then daughter, although the present frame is modern.
The Louvre has a slightly earlier oil painting of a couple seated on a bench in a park and a pencil sketch of a standing couple in a landscape. The BM has another light drawing of a couple seated on the bank of a river, sketching. Their similarity in spirit to the well-documented portrait of 'The artist and his wife and eldest daughter' (NG) also seated in a landscape, help to underline Gainsborough's grounding of the most important things in his life - his family and his art - in the landscape. That he chose to depict himself on a bench in the oils but seated informally on the ground, firmly rooted in the landscape and sketching it directly from nature in the more informal and personal medium of drawings, is very telling of his close personal affinity with the landscape. The delicate lines of drawing were perfect for conveying the artist's sensibility, even intimacy, with nature not as a public statement but one intended as a personal reminder for himself and his family.
In 1825, Gainsborough's great-nephew, Richard James Lane (1800-1872) produced a set of lithographs after a selection of twenty-five figure studies which had remained in the family. They included drawings that were preparatory for paintings of Gainsborough's friends and family and for the late projected painting of 'The Richmond Water Walk'. One of the lithographs was after the present drawing of the artist sketching, reversed and with the landscape a little more summary than here. The series was dedicated to Sir Thomas Lawrence, then renowned as a great collector of drawings.
SELECTED LITERATURE: 'Old Master and Watercolour Drawings by Deceased Artists of the British School', London, 1877-78, no.1095; R. King, 'Ignatius Sancho', NPG, London, 1997, no. 6; 'Thomas Gainsborough 1727-1788', Tate, London, 2002, no. 14
The drawing was lithographed by Richard Lane for 'Studies of Figures by Gainsborough. Executed in Exact Imitation of the Originals', published Dickinson, Jan.1.1825, Folio (270 x 370mm).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1991 Jan-April, BM, Recent Acquisitions (no cat.)
1997 Jan-Mar, London, National Gallery, 'Young Gainsborough'
1997 April-June Norwich, Castle Museum, 'Young Gainsborough'
1997 June-Aug Newcastle, Laing Art Gallery, 'Young Gainsborough'
2002/3 Oct-Jan, London, Tate Britain, 'Thomas Gainsborough 1727-1788'
2005, 7 July-25 Sep, BM, 'Masterpieces of Portrait Drawing' (no cat.)
2008/9 Oct-Jan, Edinburgh, SNPG, 'The Intimate Portrait', no. 53
2009 Mar-May, London, BM, Room 90, 'The Intimate Portrait', no. 53
2011/12 Sep-Jan, Bath, Holburne Museum, Thomas Gainsborough
2018-2019, 22 Nov-3 Feb, London, National Portrait Gallery, Gainsborough's Family Album
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Probably left by the artist to his wife; descended through daughter Margaret either to Henry Briggs or via Sophia Lane (the artist's niece) to her son Richard Lane; probably Lane sale, Christie's, 25 Feb. 1831 (96 or 98); William Russell (L.2648) by 1877; his sale, Christie's 10 Dec. 1884 (125); J. P. Heseltine (L.1507); Knoedler's, New York, 1914; Walter Heil; Anthony Reed Ltd, London, from whom purchased by BM with contributions of £37,500 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and £7,500 from the Pilgrim Trust.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number