Mobile menu
Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88)

Study for 'Cornard Wood' c. 1748

Black chalk and pencil | 32.7 x 34.1 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 931555

Your share link is...


A black chalk drawing of a landscape, showing trees beside a road, squared for transfer in pencil and numbered along the lower edge from 1 to 6. The numbers 4 and 5 appear at upper left edge. Oil spots.

The drawing is a squared-up study for Gainsborough's early landscape painting of Cornard Wood, c. 1748, in the National Gallery, London. No other drawings for this painting are known, although an oil sketch or early version of the painting was previously with Philip Mould.

This drawing is one of 25 landscape drawings in the Royal Collection that were firmly attributed to Gainsborough by Lindsay Stainton in 2013 (RCINs 931535-931559). The drawings were acquired by Queen Victoria from the studio of Sir Edwin Landseer in 1874 (Royal Archives, PPTO.PP.QV.MAIN.1873.14974 7 April 1874). Believed to be drawings by Landseer, they were mounted in a blue album for the Royal Library by J. Bignell of Piccadilly (RCIN 970229). The album is lettered on the front ‘Sketches by Sir E. Landseer’.

In the 1990s the drawings were examined by John Hayes, Lindsay Stainton and Peter Bower, and in Delia Millar’s Victorian Drawings and Watercolours in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen (1995,vol. I, p. 530), they were catalogued as ‘circle of Thomas Gainsborough or the Norwich School’. In 2013, Stainton noticed that RCIN 931555 is a squared-up study for Gainsborough’s Cornard Wood, c. 1748 (National Gallery, London). Another drawing (RCIN 931535) is a preparatory study for Gainsborough’s Autumn Landscape, c.1746-7 (Norwich Castle Museum). Together with stylistic evidence and watermarks in the paper, this allowed a reattribution of all the sheets to the early part of Gainsborough’s career, c. 1746-50, when he was working between London and Suffolk. The drawings include studies taken directly from nature, squared-up drawings ready for transfer to canvas, and landscape compositions of a more invented character, probably compiled in the studio.

The drawings are on paper of three or four types. Seventeen sheets are in black and white chalks on a French grey-buff wrapping-type paper previously only known in one other Gainsborough drawing from this period (Hoveton House, Norfolk, Hayes no. 82). One sheet is a finer, yellower French paper (931551), watermarked 1748. Seven drawings are on a Dutch fine white artists’ paper, and more common among other known early Gainsborough landscape drawings. Four of the sheets (RCINs 931553, 931554, 931557 and 931558) have drawings on the recto and verso.

Though many artists collected drawings by other artists, it remains unclear how the drawings came to be in the possession of Sir Edwin Landseer. Gainsborough was both a prolific draughtsman and very generous with his drawings, giving many away as gifts to friends in his lifetime. Many others were dispersed by his family and in sales after his death. The consistency of size, paper type, and the oil stains that have seeped across several sheets in this group (probably occurring when piled together as sheets in the artist’s studio) shows that this particular group has long been together as a group. Even before being rebound for the Royal Library, the drawings were kept in an album, as they were described in correspondence with Landseer’s studio as a book ‘with some landscapes in it’ (Royal Archives PPTO.PP.QV.MAIN.1873.14974 7 April 1874).

This volume of drawings may have been among the many groups of material dispersed by Gainsborough’s wife and children after his death (see John Hayes, The Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough, London, 1970, vol. 1, pp. 92-97) or may already have been in the hands of one of his friends. A tempting possibility is to conclude that these drawings are among the ten ‘Genuine Sketch Books, and Studies’ sold in the Gainsborough estate sale (Christie’s, 11 May 1799, lots 81-89). Some of these ‘books of sketches’ have been traced today (for example, the Payne Knight sketchbook in the British Museum), but others have not. The most likely possibilities are lots 81 (‘A book of 21 sketches from nature, marked No.1’, bt Nixon) and 87 (‘A ditto, with 19 ditto, marked No. 7’ bt Colnaghi), although the sheets would have to have been misnumbered; or lot 86 (‘A ditto, with 82 ditto, marked No. 6’, bt Pugh) if the album had later been broken up.