Family Portraits of Thomas Gainsborough Reveal Personal Side of Canonical British Painter

Distributed December 11, 2018

Gainsborough’s Family Album on view early next year at Princeton University Art Museum

PRINCETON, N.J. – For the first time, 10 of the surviving portraits carried out by British master Thomas Gainsborough of his daughters, augmented by approximately 40 additional family images by the artist, will be on view in a historic gathering. Gainsborough’s Family Album will trace the full arc of Gainsborough’s career through his family portraiture from public and private collections around the world, and by doing so will provide fascinating insights into the human character and compassion of one of Britain’s greatest artists, as well as into the nature of the family in the 18th century.

      Thomas Gainsborough, English, 1727–1788, Mary and Margaret Gainsborough, the Artist's Daughters, Playing with a Cat, ca. 1760–61. Oil on canvas. The National Gallery, London. Bought, 1923. © The National Gallery, London.Gainsborough’s Family Album is organized by the National Portrait Gallery, London, where it will originate Nov. 22, 2018, to Feb. 3, 2019, in cooperation with the Princeton University Art Museum, the exhibition’s only North American venue, where it will be on view Feb. 23 through June 9, 2019.

       “This beautiful and important exhibition will offer a fascinating glimpse into the private life of one of Britain’s most important artists, and in the process yield new perspectives on family life, domesticity and, perhaps most importantly, parental love at the birth of the modern age,” said James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director. 

       Thomas Gainsborough, English, 1727–1788, Mary and Margaret Gainsborough, the Artist's Daughters, ca. 1774. Oil on canvas. Private collection.One of Britain’s most prominent and successful artists, Gainsborough (1727-88) was renowned as a portraitist of exceptional liveliness and subtlety, whose fashionable sitters appear to have deftly stepped inside compositions suffused with remarkable effects of light, air and feathery materiality. From modest rural beginnings, Gainsborough rose to become one of the most acclaimed painters of the age, depicting royals, aristocrats and the changing nature of Britain itself at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

       Thomas Gainsborough, English, 1727–1788, The Artist with his Wife Margaret and Eldest Daughter Mary, 1748?. Oil on canvas. The National Gallery, London. Acquired under the acceptance-in-lieu scheme at the wish of Sybil, Marchioness of Cholmondeley, in memory of her brother, Sir Philip Sassoon, 1994. © The National Gallery, London.The exhibition is anchored by well-known paintings of Gainsborough’s two daughters, Mary and Margaret, as they grew from young children into adulthood, including The Artist’s Daughters with a Cat (ca. 1760-61) and rarely seen works such as a full-length double portrait of the two from about 1774. These images will be seen alongside a portrait of the artist’s father, a drawing of the artist with his wife and pet dogs, and canvasses of his siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews, among others. Taken together, these works tell a story of family intimacy, the passage of time, artistic evolution and even mortality unique in the history of art.

       The exhibition at Princeton will be accompanied by additional works from the Museum’s collections that extend the consideration of family and of the nature of childhood into the 20th century, including works by Ammi Phillips, Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, Ruth Bernhard, Sally Mann and more.

       Thomas Gainsborough, English, 1727–1788, completed by Gainsborough Dupont, British, 1754–1797, Self -portrait, mid-1770s and 1790. Oil on canvas. The Samuel Courtland Trust. The Courtauld Gallery, London.Gainsborough’s Family Album will be accompanied by a fully illustrated publication with essays by exhibition curator David Solkin, emeritus professor, Courtauld Institute of Art; Ann Bermingham, professor emerita of art history, University of California, Santa Barbara; and Susan Sloman, independent art historian and author. Princeton museum director James Steward will deliver the exhibition’s opening lecture on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019 at 5 p.m.

       Gainsborough’s Family Album has been organized by the National Portrait Gallery, London, in association with the Princeton University Art Museum. At Princeton, this exhibition has been made possible with generous support from the Frances E. and Elias Wolf, Class of 1920, Fund; Annette Merle-Smith; Argyris Vassiliou, Graduate School Class of 1991, and Ann Vassiliou; William S. Fisher, Class of 1979, and Sakurako Fisher, through Sakana Foundation; and the Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Exhibitions Fund. Additional support has been provided by Christopher E. Olofson, Class of 1992; Nancy A. Nasher, Class of 1976, and David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976; the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; Betty Wold Johnson, through the Robert Wood Johnson III Fund of the Princeton Area Community Foundation; the Chopra Family Youth and Community Program Fund; and the Partners and Friends of the Princeton University Art Museum.


About the Princeton University Art Museum

       With a collecting history that extends back to 1755, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the leading university art museums in the country, with collections that have grown to include over 100,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary art and spanning the globe.

       Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum also serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world. Intimate in scale yet expansive in scope, the Museum offers a respite from the rush of daily life, a revitalizing experience of extraordinary works of art and an opportunity to delve deeply into the study of art and culture.

       The Princeton University Art Museum is located at the heart of the Princeton campus, a short walk from the shops and restaurants of Nassau Street. Admission is free. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays.