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Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88)

Trees beside a pond (recto); Study of a young woman, possibly Miss Lloyd of Ipswich (verso) c. 1748 - c. 1750

Black chalk | 35.3 x 32.6 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 931554

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A black chalk drawing of a landscape with trees, burdock plants and a pond in the middle ground. On the verso, a black chalk portrait drawing of the head of a young girl, and the figure '7' in ink.

It is tempting to think that the figure study could show Margaret Burr, who Gainsborough married in 1746. The drawing is more likely to relate to the Portrait of a woman, possibly of the Lloyd family in the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth (ACF 1946.04). The Lloyd family were based in Ipswich. Several elements suggest that the drawing is one of several studies Gainsborough made for this painting. The twisted tree trunks next to the lake in the middle ground can be found in the painting, and the tree on the left and the burdock plants also appear, even if not in the same exact arrangement. The portrait study on the verso shows a prominent ringlet on the right side of the girl's face, similar to the hairstyle seen in the finished portrait.

The 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.