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Exhibition box - Showbox
  • Showbox
    Thomas Gainsborough, born 1727 - died 1788
  • Enlarge image

Showbox

  • Object:

    Exhibition box

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1781-1782 (designed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Thomas Gainsborough, born 1727 - died 1788 (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wood (oak), with glass lens and brass fittings

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Ernest E. Cook through Art Fund

  • Museum number:

    P.44:1 to 4-1955

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case BECK2, shelf 13 []

Thomas Gainsborough built a successful career as a painter of fashionable portraits, but he preferred to paint landscapes. In the 1780s he made a series of landscapes, in oil on glass, to be viewed in this specially constructed 'showbox'. Gainsborough was probably inspired by the example of contemporary glass paintings and the 'Eidophusikon', a miniature theatre for the display of pictures invented by the painter Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg in 1781. He used these transparencies, whose subjects were mainly drawn from the landscape near his native Sudbury, as an aid for planning larger compositions and for exploring different effects of lighting.

A contemporary witness described the working of the showbox thus: 'The machine consists of a number of glass planes, which are moveable, and were painted by himself [Gainsborough], of various subjects, chiefly landscapes. They are lighted by candles at the back, and are viewered through a magnifying lens, by which means the effect produced is truly captivating, especially the moonlight pieces, which exhibit the most perfect resemblance of nature.'

Physical description

A hollow wooden (oak) exhibition box mounted on a wood base. The front of the box contains a round lens through which the viewer may see a glass transparency positioned inside an interior slot. The box opens at the top and back and contains further slots for storing transparencies.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)

Date

ca. 1781-1782 (designed)

Artist/maker

Thomas Gainsborough, born 1727 - died 1788 (designer)

Materials and Techniques

Wood (oak), with glass lens and brass fittings

Object history note

Gainsborough built a successful career as a fashionable portraitist, but he preferred to paint landscapes. In the 1780s he made a series of landscapes, in oil on glass, to be viewed in a specially constructed 'showbox.' It was described thus:

'The machine consists of a number of glass planes, which are moveable, and were painted by himself [Gainsborough], of various subject, chiefly landscapes. They are lighted by candles at the back, and are viewed through a magnifying lens, by which means the effect produced is truly captivating, especially the moonlight pieces, which exhibit the most perfect resemblance of nature.'

Gainsborough used these transparencies as a compositional aid for larger pictures, as well as for exploring different lighting effects.

Historical context note

Gainsborough's showbox was probably inspired by contemporary glass paintings and the 'Eidophusikon', a miniature theatre for the display of pictures, invented by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg in 1781.

Production Note

The box was designed by Thomas Gainsborough specifically to view his oil-on-glass transparencies. The maker, however, remains unknown.

Materials

Oak; Glass; Brass

Subjects depicted

Exhibition box

Categories

Tools & Equipment

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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