"The Letters of Thomas Gainsborough" by John Hayes

The Letters of Thomas Gainsborough John Hayes

Series:
The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
Format:
Paperback
Publication date:
16 Feb 2016
ISBN:
9780300223033
Imprint:
Yale University Press
Dimensions:
240 pages: 235 x 156mm
Illustrations:
80 b-w illus.

Once described as “brilliant but eccentric . . . too licentious to be published,” Gainsborough’s letters delighted his friends and they delight us. This book gathers together all the known letters by the illustrious eighteenth-century British painter and connects them with a narrative of Gainsborough’s life that gives the correspondence a biographical coherence.

The letters reveal a man who was generous and warm-hearted, devoted to his family and friends, convivial, often dissipated yet modest and God-fearing, usually sensible in his own affairs and always so in the advice he gave to others. We also learn a great deal about Gainsborough’s painting: his methods and techniques, his attitude toward portraiture and landscape, his relationships with his patrons, the prices he charged, his concern about how his pictures were hung, and his ambivalence about the value of the Royal Academy exhibitions. Running through the letters, too, is his love of music and his friendship with musicians. The 110 letters, which include correspondence with Gainsborough’s friends and relatives, are supplemented by thirty-six documents in the artist’s own hand, chiefly instructions to his bankers and receipts for payments from clients. Illustrations are included of all the people to whom Gainsborough wrote whose portraits exist and of friends and works of art described in the letters. More than 300 notes identify these people and help to explain the text.

John Hayes, director of the National Portrait Gallery from 1974 to 1994, has written extensively on the art of Thomas Gainsborough.