Thomas Gainsborough, Mr and Mrs Andrews, about 1750
Intended as a double portrait of two newly-weds, many actually see this as a triple portrait of Robert Andrews, his wife Frances, and his estate
Robert Andrews inherited the house and estate of Auberies in Suffolk (the setting for the painting) through his marriage to Frances, and probably relished the opportunity to show it off. The painting looks out across the landscape, south over the valley of the River Stour, 3,000 acres of which belonged to Andrews.
The scene, well known to both artist and patron, is depicted more accurately than in any other Gainsborough painting. At the far left is a faint outline of the square tower of Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford. In the centre distance the parish church of All Saints, Sudbury, where the Andrews had been married, can be glimpsed through the trees. The oak tree, under which the couple pose, stands today, but the artist has allowed himself some licence in his positioning of the newly harvested cornfield – possibly to demonstrate Andrews’s farming prowess.
The couple are shown informally. Master of all he surveys, Mr Andrews stands nonchalantly with an air of dishevelled elegance. Bags of shot and powder hang from his belt, and a hunting gun rests under his arm. His adoring retriever stands at his side.
Mrs Andrews is rather self-conscious and stiff. Aged about 17, she seems refined and delicate; her satin dress and dainty embroidered shoes are ill-suited to a country walk. She is perched on a garden bench, the playful curves of which are echoed in the figures and in the tree roots, reflecting the contemporary taste for Rococo design that Gainsborough would have absorbed during his London training.
The incomplete section of Mrs Andrews’ lap has remained a mystery: what was intended to sit in her lap? Perhaps it was meant to be a pheasant recently shot by Mr Andrews – another reminder of the spoils of the estate – or perhaps the space was reserved for an anticipated baby. The couple went on to have nine children, but the space remained forever unfilled.