Twenty-five landscape drawings reattributed to Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88) will go on display for the first time in an exhibition Young Gainsborough: Rediscovered Landscape Drawings, travelling to York Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Ireland and Nottingham Castle in 2021 and 2022. Produced in the late 1740s when Gainsborough was in his early twenties, the drawings offer an intimate glimpse into the early career of one of Britain’s best-loved artists. The drawings were previously believed to be by the painter Sir Edwin Landseer, having been acquired by Queen Victoria from his studio in 1874. They were then housed in the Print Room at Windsor Castle, bound in an album titled 'Sketches by Sir E Landseer'.
In 2013, the art historian Lindsay Stainton identified one of the drawings as a study for Gainsborough’s most celebrated landscape painting, Cornard Wood (c.1748), leading to the reattribution of the drawings to Gainsborough. This discovery represents a major contribution to Gainsborough’s work as a draughtsman, and dramatically expands the number of known drawings from this early part of his career. To place the drawings in context, the exhibition will feature other paintings and drawings from Gainsborough’s early years.
The study for Cornard Wood will hang alongside the finished painting, newly conserved and loaned by The National Gallery, London, uniting the painting with its preparatory drawing for the first time since they were last together in Gainsborough’s studio. The drawing offers a fresh glimpse into Gainsborough’s creative process. He ruled a squared grid over the preparatory drawing, a common technique that allowed an artist to transfer (and enlarge) a composition square by square from a study sheet onto a larger canvas. Numbers pencilled along the lower edge of the sheet allowed him to keep track of the transfer process, while traces of oil and paint suggest that he had the drawing close to hand while working on the painting in his studio.
When conservators at Windsor Castle removed the drawings from their album in preparation for the exhibition, four of the sheets were discovered to have further drawings on the reverse, where Gainsborough used both sides of the paper to experiment with compositions. One is a small study of the head of a young woman, in the slightly naive figure style of Gainsborough’s early portraits. The sheet will be displayed double-sided in the exhibition, encapsulating the fluidity with which Gainsborough switched between - and often combined - portraiture and landscape as he sought to make his mark on the British art scene.
Young Gainsborough: Rediscovered Landscape Drawings is a touring exhibition curated by Royal Collection Trust in collaboration with York Art Gallery; the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin; and Nottingham Castle with additional works loaned by The National Gallery, London; The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; and Colchester and Ipswich Museums.