Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)

The drawing by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), created between 1780 and 1785, depicts a hilly »Landscape with Horse and Figures«. Off in the distance one recognizes the sea, and above it, on the horizon, an expansive sky. Yet the first impression of an idyllic landscape with animals and humans is deceptive: from the right dark clouds are moving in, announcing a sudden change in the weather. The old tree emerging behind a hut in the right half of the picture, evidently damaged in earlier storms, reminds of the effects which the natural forces of wind and rain can unfold. But while the horse is seeking shelter, the farmer with his dog lying at his feet seems immersed in thought and remains seated in front of the small building covered with straw. From the left a woman approaches carrying two buckets on her shoulders. She, too, appears to be seeking the shelter of the hut—a typical subject that appears repeatedly in Gainsborough's landscapes.

In addition to a dynamic composition, Gainsborough lent the image a particular, dramatic atmosphere by means of a specific drawing technique, which, in the course of his career, would become more and more intricate and painterly. He had commented on the complex techniques he was employing in several of his letters and considered them an integral part of his artistic secrets. In »Landscape with Horse and Figures« Gainsborough used black and white chalk as well as paintbrush in black: the deliberately applied white heightening in chalk serves to increase the contrasts and make the upcoming storm clearly visible for the beholder. The black brushstrokes partially used for framing enhance the impression of the landscape as a conveyor of mood.

Though drawings sometimes served Gainsborough as a source of ideas for paintings, he mainly understood them—as in the case of »Landscape with Horse and Figures«—as autonomous artworks created for their own sake. It is known that he seldom sold his works on paper. Gainsborough would either give them to friends or patrons as gifts or keep them for himself. 

The Hamburger Kunsthalle holds one of the most significant and comprehensive collections of artworks from the field of landscape painting around 1800 in Germany. Thomas Gainsborough, one of the most prominent landscape painters from this period, was missing as of yet. Thanks to the acquisition of »Landscape with Horse and Figures« through the Stiftung Hamburger Kunstsammlungen (SHK) (Foundation for the Hamburg Art Collections), this gap could be closed.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) grew up in Suffolk in south-eastern England and was greatly influenced and inspired by its landscape. Along with William Hogarth (1697–1764) and Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792), he counts as one of the most important English painters of the 18th century.