Figures Before a Cottage Figures Before a Cottage

1772-73/Oil on canvas

149.0 x 120.0 cm

On loan

Where The Gaze Reaches: Masterpieces from the Collecition of Tokyo Fuji Art Museum

Exhibition period:03 23, 2024 (SAT)06 23, 2024 (SUN)

Chengdu Art Museum (Chengdu, China)

Use of Images


This painting depicts a twilight idyllic scene. A family gathers in front of the door of a country house, when a woodcutter carrying fagots returns home. An idealized image of peasants is depicted in this idyllic scene which is full of a lyrical atmosphere. The Figures Before a Cottage is the first of Gainsborough’s paintings on the theme of “The Cottage Door,” which is the subject matter that appeared in his imaginary world throughout his entire artistic career. In this painting, each of the figures is depicted carefully and elaborately. The sitting mother holding a baby, who stands out brightly in the dusky scene as if a spotlight is shining on her, evokes the image of Virgin and Child, and the children around her look like the cupids who came out of an altarpiece created by Correggio. The effect created by the strong evening glow that is filtering through the tree leaves and the impasto (thick layers of paints) used for the light reflected on the window heighten the emotional atmosphere further. The image of the family in the twilight pastoral scene is sacralized within the picture. Around 1773, when this painting was thought to be created, is the last years of Gainsborough’s Bath period (1759-74) when his pictorial representation had significantly developed, and this work led to the world of “Fancy Picture,” the style which would later be completed during his London period.   The term “fancy picture” which was coined by Sir Joshua Reynolds refers to a painting that falls somewhere in between a portrait and genre painting of the late 18th century. This type of painting depicts idealized peasants in a pastoral landscape; however, peasant figures look motionless as if they are posing in a studio and don’t appear to be actually in a landscape. It is a characteristic of the fancy picture. Gainsborough said that while portraiture was his profession, landscape painting was his pleasure. In this type of painting at which he was good, he freely composed rural landscapes full of imagination with his smooth brushstrokes. It can be interpreted as the works that Gainsborough refined and developed into the British style the world of painting suggested by the predecessors of the 17th and 18th centuries including Murillo, Watteau and Greuze.  


Thomas Gainsborough

Thomas Gainsborough1727-1788

List of artworks by the same artist


Exhibiton history
Origin of collections

Provenance: Painted for Felice de Giardini(1716-96) Richard Rigby (1722-88), Mistley Hall, Essex, by 1786. His sale, Christie’s 9 Jan. 1789, lot 9, bt. Peters, Chandons, 1st Lord Leigh (1791-1850), by 1839 By desent to Francis, 3rd Lord Leigh (1855-1930), from whom it was purchased by Duveen before 1930 Sir Harry Oakes (1874-1943), thence by descent, sold 1873, London Christie’s New York, 19 Jan 1982, lot 58(repr.)(as attributed to Gainsborough), bt by a Swiss private collector Exhibited: Cambridge, Mass, Fogg Art Museum, 18th Century English Painting, 1930, no.24 Cincinnati, Gainsborough, 1931, no.33, plate 36 San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, English Painting of the 18th and Early 19th Centuries, 1933, no.20 Mexico City, Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno, Pintura Britanica en Mexico, Siglos ⅩⅥ alⅩⅨ,1963, no.25


Literature : Morning Herald, 3 April 1786 Authentic Memoirs, and a Sketch of the Real Character of the late Right Honorable Richard Rigby, London, 1788, p.22; Whitley, p.235 Waterhouse, no.961 Woodall, Letters, p.47 E.Waterhouse, Gainsborough, London 1958, no.96 J. Hayes The Landscape Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, London 1982, vol.Ⅰ, pp.120, 154, 188, vol.Ⅱ, p.451, no.106, with repr. With further literature


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