2016 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226


Changing Views of Gainsborough’s Landscape Painting: A
Historiographical Investigation

Chia-chuan Hsieh

Graduate Institute of Art Studies, National Central University

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), one of the few painters who produced both portraits and landscapes in eighteenth-century England, was a founding member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768 and a founder of the English School in art-historical writings. In the early twentieth century Gainsborough was celebrated for his portraits; however, since the mid-twentieth century, the image of the artist has become one of a “portraitist whose real love was landscape,” and it was his landscapes that provoked most scholarly discussion toward the end of the century. This shift of focus not only related to the evaluation of Gainsborough’s artistic achievement, but also involved the shifting taste of art historians and changes in the conceptual framework of art-historical studies. This article begins with a discussion of the changes in the studies of Gainsborough’s landscapes since the mid-twentieth century, analyzing various approaches to Gainsborough and his works. This article then examines Gainsborough’s landscapes in different contexts: collecting and exhibition, reproductive printmaking, national school discourse, and globalization. These investigations, rather than focusing on the production of paintings and their pictorial content, illuminate the process of reception of Gainsborough’s landscapes through the centuries. This article illustrates that an analysis of Gainsborough studies reveals important progress in art-historical research and facilitates reflections on the restraints and potential of art history as a critical discipline.


Keywords: Gainsborough, landscape, English school, art history, social history of art