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Study of a Standing Woman, Turned to the Right



Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)
Study of a Standing Woman, Turned to the Right
Black chalk and stump with white chalk on faded blue laid paper, the corners cut
AGLC 299 @ A.G Leventis Gallery

John Hayes does not appear to have seen the  drawing but, on the strength of the provenance,  Richard James Lane’s lithograph and the illustration  in the 1955 sale catalogue, he included  the sheet in his catalogue raisonné.  He misread  the object in the sitter’s left hand as a vase, an oddly  classical devise for Gainsborough to choose, but  closer inspection shows that she is holding a rose  sprig, a detail that appears in many of his formal  painted portraits. The sitter is shown in a saqueback  dress, the train held over her right arm, with  lace engageantes at the elbow, a gauze fichu around  her shoulders, roundel earrings and a pendant held  by a ribbon. She wears a cap and perhaps a pompon.  Her hair is dressed in a style described by contemporaries  as tête de mouton, which was fashionable  for a short time in the mid-1760s.         

Hayes linked the drawing to the pose of Lady Egremont  in a portrait by Gainsborough at Petworth  House, West Sussex, which, according to an unpublished  letter, dates from 1765.  Excepting the head  and hair, the portrait and the background have been  completely repainted, though the pose of Gainsborough’s  original portrait was probably retained.         

If this is the case, the design follows compositions  in several three-quarter-length portraits   by Gainsborough that derive from the portrait of  Lady Mary Villiers standing in the foreground of Sir  Anthony van Dyck’s huge portrait of the Pembroke  Family (Wilton House, Wiltshire).  It is not known  who repainted Gainsborough’s portrait, though  the most likely candidate is Thomas Phillips, who  was a close associate of George Wyndham, 3rd  Earl of Egremont, the sitter’s son.       

Gainsborough’s figure studies are rare. Most of his  drawings are of landscape subjects made during  walks in the countryside and, as he became  increasingly short of time due to his popularity  as a portraitist, he drew as a relaxation at home.  Although Gainsborough never sold a drawing, he is  known to have given some landscape studies away  as gifts; the majority of his figure studies remained  in his studio. Some are related to portraits painted  in the early 1760s, when his portrait style was  changing rapidly and he needed to experiment on  paper before committing his ideas to canvas.  Gainsborough’s extant figure studies did not  appear in his studio sale or in the auction sales that  were held during the 1790s by Gainsborough’s  widow and his nephew and studio assistant,  Gainsborough Dupont (1754-1797). Instead, they  were ‘reserved by the late Miss Gainsborough as  favourite studies of her Father’  and, as the missing  corners suggest, were stuck into an album. The  artist’s elder daughter, Mary (1748-1826),  was  increasingly deluded in her later years, and after  the death of her sister Margaret (1752-1820), her  cousin, Sophia Lane (1762-1846), cared for her.  The album of drawings either passed to a local  well-wisher, Henry Briggs (1787-1854), whose  motives are difficult to determine, or to Sophia’s  son, Richard James Lane (1800-1872).  Lane made  lithographs of the best of the sheets, including this  drawing, and they were published in book form  by J. Dickinson in London in 1825 under the title  Studies of Figures by Gainsborough: Executed in Exact  Imitation of the Originals. Their competence served  Lane well, and he was elected as an Associate of  the Royal Academy two years later.   

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About the artist

Along with his rival, Sir Joshua Reynolds, he was the leading portrait painter of his generation and one of the creators of the 18th-century British landscape school. He had a precocious talent for drawing and, aged 13, moved to London to study with Gravelot. By 1759 he was living in Bath, where he attracted a fashionable clientele, whom he portrayed in stylish, contemporary dress. In 1769 he was a founder-member of the Royal Academy, with which he subsequently fell out. Living in London from 1774, he received, from 1780 on, many royal commissions for portraits; his own preference was for landscape. His only known assistant was his nephew, Gainsborough Dupont.

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