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Thomas Gainsborough, The Painter's Daughters with a Cat

Key facts
Full title The Painter's Daughters with a Cat
Artist Thomas Gainsborough
Artist dates 1727 - 1788
Date made probably about 1760-1
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 75.6 × 62.9 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1923
Inventory number NG3812
Location Room 35
Collection Main Collection
The Painter's Daughters with a Cat
Thomas Gainsborough

This portrait of Gainsborough’s daughters is likely to have been painted in Bath a year or so after the family moved there in late 1759. Mary appears to be about ten or eleven years old, and Margaret about eight or nine. Margaret leans her forehead back against her sister’s cheek as she holds their barely sketched-in cat, while Mary wraps her arms around her little sister, partly to help her with the writhing cat – whose tail she appears to pull – but also in a moving gesture of tenderness. No other portrait of this date conveys so strongly the sense that it is painted from life.

Although the faces have been painted, most of the picture is unfinished. The feathery pattern of gold, blue and grey brushstrokes that surrounds the girls seems to suggest storm clouds, sun and woodland.

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