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Thomas Gainsborough, Portrait of the Artist with his Wife and Daughter

Key facts
Full title Portrait of the Artist with his Wife and Daughter
Artist Thomas Gainsborough
Artist dates 1727 - 1788
Date made about 1748
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 92.1 × 70.5 cm
Acquisition credit Acquired under the acceptance-in-lieu scheme at the wish of Sybil, Marchioness of Cholmondeley, in memory of her brother, Sir Philip Sassoon, 1994
Inventory number NG6547
Location Room 35
Collection Main Collection
Portrait of the Artist with his Wife and Daughter
Thomas Gainsborough

This is the earliest known self portrait in oil by Gainsborough, and the only known one of him with his family. He sits with his wife, Margaret, and the little rosy-cheeked girl is probably Mary, their short-lived first daughter. It is likely Gainsborough began it before Mary’s burial on 1 March 1748, when he was not yet 21, and his wife Margaret was a year or so younger.

Gainsborough portrays himself in a relaxed cross-legged pose, with one button of his waistcoat undone to suggest his elegant lack of concern with his appearance. He holds a piece of paper which may once have represented a drawing. The paint here and on the child has become transparent with age. Living in London at the time, Gainsborough had some evident difficulties with the landscape as well as with the proportions of the rather stiff-limbed figures. Quite a few changes were made during painting, particularly to Margaret’s pose and dress, and her left hand remains unfinished.

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