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Oil painting - Wooded Moonlight Landscape with Pool and Figure at the Door of a Cottage
  • Wooded Moonlight Landscape with Pool and Figure at the Door of a Cottage
    Gainsborough, born 1727 - died 1788
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Wooded Moonlight Landscape with Pool and Figure at the Door of a Cottage

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Britain, United Kingdom (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1781-1782 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Gainsborough, born 1727 - died 1788 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    transparent oil on glass

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Ernest E. Cook through The Art Fund

  • Museum number:

    P.33-1955

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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The following description of this painting appeared in 1824.'The Cottage - Representing a most powerful effect of fire-light in the interior. The artist has given considerable interest to this subject by introducing the cottager opening the door: the contrast between the light of the cottage and that of the moon, excite the most pleasing association in the mind'.

Physical description

This is catalogue no. 134 in John Hayes "The Landscape Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough: A Critical Text and Catalogue Raisonne" (1982).

For a General Note on the series of transparencies and the display box, see "History 1", under "Historical Significance".
For Provenance see "History 1", under "Object History Note".

Notes taken from Hayes, cat. no. 134:
"This is the first occasion on which Gainsborough painted a moonlight scene and the first in which he tried out an indoor lighting effect; the window, and the dooway against which the figure is silhouetted, are brilliantly illumined by firelight... Edward Edwards described the effects produced by Gainsborough's transparencies as "truly captivating, especially in the moon-light pieces, which exhibit the most perfect resemblance of nature."

Place of Origin

Britain, United Kingdom (painted)

Date

ca. 1781-1782 (painted)

Artist/maker

Gainsborough, born 1727 - died 1788 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

transparent oil on glass

Dimensions

Height: 27.9 cm, Width: 33.7 cm

Object history note

Hayes 1982, cat. no. 134, p. 498

"Provenance: Purchased from Margaret Gainsborough (1752-1820) by Dr Thomas Monro (1759-1833); Monro sale, Christie's, 26 June 1833 ff., 3rd day (28 June), lot 168, bt W.White, who bequeathed it to G.W. Reid; anon. [Buck Reid] sale, Christie's, 29 March 1890, lot 132, bt in; Leopold Hirsch; Hirsch sale, Christie's, 11 May 1934, lot 104, bt Gooden and Fox for Ernest E. Cook; bequeathed to the Victoria and Albert Museum, through the National Art-Collections Fund, 1955"

Historical significance: General Note from Hayes, cat. no. 132, p. 497

Gainsborough was familiar with transparency painting, and had himself painted transparencies for the decoration of Bach and Abel's concert rooms in Hanover Square, London, opened in February 1775; but it seems to have been de Loutherbourg's Eidophusikon, first shown in February 1781, which inspired his own 'peep-show' for displaying his ideas for landscapes. Gainsborough's rather amateurish box [which is also in the V&A, museum number P.44-1955, illustrated in Hayes, pls 171, 172] consisted of a large storage space, containing twelve slats, to house his transparencies; a system of cords and pulleys to hoist the desired transparency into position; four slats behind this position, into anyone of which could be inserted a semi-transparent silk screen; and, at the back, five candle-holders. The spectator viewed the transparencies through a large round peep-hole, fitted with a magnifying lens, in the front of the box. The lens could be adjusted to between 25½ and 34½ inches of the projected transparency, thus producing an image with a magnification of between two-and-a-half and five times the size of the original, according to the length of adjustment. The light transmitted from the candles behind, albeit diffused through the silk screen, produced a luminosity close to that in nature impossible to achieve in oil painting on an opaque support. It is not known whether the transparencies were intended to be viewed with the painted surface facing the candle or the spectator; there is optical evidence to favour the former method, but this matter, and others connected with the box, require further investigation. Gainsborough must have painted numerous transparencies for showing in his box, but only ten survive [two further transparencies in the V&A, P.38-1955 and P.40-1955, were painted by another artist at a later date]. All ten are completely tonal in quality, executed in a range of blues, greens and browns, and Gainsborough's aim was clearly to heighten and dramatize his effects of light.

Descriptive line

Oil painting on glass, 'Wooded Moonlight Landscape with Pool and Figure at the Door of a Cottage', Thomas Gainsborough, ca. 1781-1782

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

See Sensation and Sensibility. Viewing Gainsborough's cottage door, ed. by A. Bermingham, 2005, pp. 23-24
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum. London: V&A, 1985, p. 82
The following is the full text of the entry:

"Thomas Gainsborough 1727-1788
British School
TRANSPARENCY: COTTAGE AND POND, MOONLIGHT
Oil on glass, 28 X 33.6 cm
P.33-1955. Bequeathed by E E Cook through the NACF.

In 1781 Gainsborough's friend Philip de Loutherbourg astonished London by the display of his Eidophusikon, or Representation of Nature. This elaborate contrivance, consisted of a six-foot wide stage with brilliant lamps, slips of stained glass, trees made from cork and moss, mechanical models, transparencies and sound effects which were all employed to produce moving scenic effects. On one occasion Gainsborough was helping to produce the sound effect of a thunder storm by shaking a sheet of copper, when a real thunder storm broke out. De Loutherbourg gripped Gainsborough by the arm, and said 'Our thunder is better, by God!'.

Gainsborough's experience in helping with this apparatus, and his knowledge of contemporary stained glass painting, inspired him to produce a set of ten, or possibly twelve, transparencies, one of which is reproduced here. They were viewed in a peep-show 'show-box', illuminated from behind by four small candles and seen through a lens. The light was diffused and varied by a coloured silk screen inserted between the candles and the glass, so that remarkable flickering effects of light were produced.

A painting on opaque canvas can only achieve a luminance scale of 20 to 1, but by painting on glass a far greater approximation can be achieved to the luminance scale of nature which can reach 760 to 1 on a bright sunny day. Gainsborough enjoyed experimenting with the wider range of tonal effects available by using a glass support as can be seen in this moonlit nocturn with its dramatically lighted cottage door and windows, a characteristic picturesque subject. Some of the other transparencies relate closely to oil paintings by Gainsborough, and it seems probable that he painted many more than these surviving examples, experimenting with similar compositions both on glass and canvas.

Lionel Lambourne"
Hayes, John. The landscape paintings of Thomas Gainsborough: a critical text and catalogue raisonné. London: Sotheby Publications, 1982, vol. 2, p. 498-499, cat. no. 134
The following is the full text of the entry:

"134 Wooded Moonlight Landscape with Pool and Figure at the Door of a Cottage

Transparency on glass. 11 X 13¼ 27.9 X 33.7
Painted c.1781-2

Victoria and Albert Museum, London (P.33-1955)

ENGRAVING Mezzotinted by S. W. Reynolds and published by W. B. Cooke, 2 April 1824 (published in Gems of Art, London, 1848, pl. 17).

PROVENANCE Purchased from Margaret Gainsborough (1752-1820) by Dr Thomas Monro (1759-1833); Monro sale, Christie's, 26 June 1833 ff., 3rd day (28 June), lot 168, bt W. White, who bequeathed it to G. W. Reid; anon [Buck Reid] sale, Christie's, 29 March 1890, lot 132, bt in; Leopold Hirsch; Hirsch sale, Christie's, 11 May 1934, lot 104, bt Gooden and Fox for Ernest E. Cook; bequeathed to the Victoria and Albert Museum, through the National Art-Collections Fund, 1955.

EXHIBITIONS W. B. Cooke's 'Exhibition of Drawings', 9 Soho Square, London, 1824, p. 14; GG, 1885 (394); 'The Romantic Movement', Arts Council, Tate Gallery, 1959 (165); 'Landscape in Britain c. 1750-1850', Tate Gallery, November 1973-February 1974 (63, repr.); 'Thomas Gainsborough's Exhibition Box and Transparencies,' Gainsborough's House, Sudbury, June-July 1979 (2); Tate Gallery, 1980-81 (146, repr.).

BIBLIOGRAPHY Somerset House Gazette, 10 April 1824, ed. Ephraim Hardcastle [W. H. Pyne], London, 1824, vol. 2, p. 8; Fulcher, pp. 124-5 (note); George M. Brock-Arnold, Gainsborough, London, 1881, p. 60; Boulton, p. 285; Waterhouse, p. 33, no. 971, repr. pl. 262; John Hayes, 'Gainsborough', Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, April 1965, repr. fig. 11; Jonathan Mayne, 'Thomas Gainsborough's Exhibition Box', Victoria and Albert Museum Bulletin, vol. I, no. 3, July 1965, p. 21, repr. fig. 6; Gatt, pp. 10, 37-8, repr. pl. 55 (col.); Hayes, p. 222, repr. pl. 124; Grand Palais, 1981, p. 27, repr. fig. 16; Lindsay, p. 150.

Gainsborough was familiar with transparency painting, and had himself painted transparencies for the decoration of Bach and Abel's concert rooms in Hanover Square, London, opened in February 1775; but it seems to have been de Loutherbourg's Eidophusikon, first shown in February 178 I, which inspired his own 'peep-show' for displaying his ideas for landscapes (see pp. 140-42). Gainsborough's rather amateurish box (pls 171, 172) consisted of a large storage space, containing twelve slats, to house his transparencies; a system of cords and pulleys to hoist the desired transparency into position; four slats behind this position, into anyone of which could be inserted a semi-transparent silk screen; and, at the back, five candle-holders. The spectator viewed the transparencies through a large round peep-hole, fitted with a magnifying lens, in the front of the box. The lens could be adjusted to between 25½ and 34½ inches of the projected transparency, thus producing an image with a magnification of between two-and-a-half and five times the size of the original, according to the length of adjustment. The light transmitted from the candles behind, albeit diffused through the silk screen, produced a luminosity close to that in nature impossible to achieve in oil painting on an opaque support. It is not known whether the transparencies were intended to be viewed with the painted surface facing the candle or the spectator; there is optical evidence to favour the former method, but this matter, and others connected with the box, require further investigation (the reproductions in the present catalogue are all of the painted surface). (I am grateful to Mr Lionel Lambourne and Mr John Murdoch, of the Victoria and Albert Museum, for their help, and for allowing me to examine the official file.) Gainsborough must have painted numerous transparencies for showing in his box, but only ten survive (this one and cat. nos 133, 134, 139, 140, 154, 155, 172, 173 and 177): all these are completely tonal in quality, executed in a range of blues, greens and browns, and Gainsborough's aim was clearly to heighten and dramatize his effects of light. This is the first occasion on which Gainsborough painted a moonlight scene and the first in which he tried out an indoor lighting effect: the window, and the doorway against which the figure is silhouetted, are brilliantly illumined by fire-light (the similar effect in the cottage window in the Rutland The Woodcutter's Return (cat. no. 105) is caused by the rays of the setting sun). Edward Edwards described the effects produced by Gainsborough's transparencies as 'truly captivating, especially in the moon-light pieces, which exhibit the most perfect resemblance of nature'. Also mentioned on pp. 141, 142.

DATING Identical with cat. no. 133 in the spindly tree-trunks, the rapid handling and highlighting of the soft, washy foliage, and the fluid treatment of the foreground. The motif of the cottage beside a pool is related to cat. no. 135."

Labels and date

"Label" created by Elise load : Author unknown:
"This is one of a series of transparencies produced by Gainsborough. They were viewed in a peepshow 'show box', illuminated from behind by four small candles and seen through a lens. The light was diffused and varied by a coloured silkscreen inserted between the candles and the glass so that remarkable flickering effects were produced. The subject, a moonlit nocturn with its dramatically lighted cottage windows was a characteristic picturesque subject."

Materials

Glass; Oil paint

Techniques

Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Landscape; Cottages; Moonlight; Night scenes, Nocturns

Categories

Paintings

Collection code

PDP

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Qr_O17300
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