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Oil painting - Coastal Scene with Sailing and Rowing Boats and Figures on the Shore
  • Coastal Scene with Sailing and Rowing Boats and Figures on the Shore
    Gainsborough, born 1727 - died 1788
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Coastal Scene with Sailing and Rowing Boats and Figures on the Shore

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain, UK (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1783 (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.43-1955

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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Gainsborough used transparencies when planning a major composition. This one is a preliminary idea for a large oil painting exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1783. The artist reversed the composition in a later glass transparency and in the final painting.

Physical description

This is catalogue no. 139 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. 139:
This transparency is a preliminary idea for a large "Coastal Scene" on canvas now in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (Hayes, cat. no. 141); in the final canvas however the composition is reversed and has fewer ships. Another transparency in the V&A (museum number P.41-1955) shows the same coastal scene, but is also reversed and is closest to the finished canvas. This transparency shows the pointing figure on the right of the picture, while transparency P.41-1955 shows the pointing figure on the left of the picture. Both transparencies demonstrate that, as with his drawing, one of the purposes for which Gainsborough used his transparencies was as a trial work-out for a major composition.

Place of Origin

Great Britain, UK (painted)

Date

ca. 1783 (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. 139, p. 505

"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, 'Coastal Scene with Sailing and Rowing Boats and Figures on the Shore', Thomas Gainsborough, ca. 1783

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

See Sensation and Sensibility. Viewing Gainsborough's cottage door, ed. by A. Bermingham, 2005, pp. 23-24
Hayes, John. The landscape paintings of Thomas Gainsborough: a critical text and catalogue raisonné. London: Sotheby Publications, 1982, vol. 2, p. 505-506, cat. no. 139
The following is the full text of the entry:

"139 Coastal Scene with Sailing and Rowing Boats and Figures on the Shore

Transparency on glass. 11 X 13¼ 27.9 X 33.7
Painted c.1783
Victoria and Albert Museum, London (P.43-1955)

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.
EXHIBITION GG, 1885 (394).
BIBLIOGRAPHY Waterhouse, no. 974, repr. pl. 265; Jonathan Mayne, 'Thomas Gainsborough's Exhibition Box', Victoria and Albert Museum Bulletin, vol. I, no. 3, July 1965, pp. 21, 23, repr. fig.8; Gatt, pp. 10, 37-8, repr. pls 58, 59 (col.); Joseph Burke, English Art 1714-1800, Oxford, 1976, p. 220; British Museum, 1978, p. 17.
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 (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. A preliminary idea for the Melbourne picture (cat. no. 141), with the design in reverse and with fewer ships. This and the succeeding design (cat. no. 140) demonstrate that, as with his drawings, one of the purposes for which Gainsborough used his transparencies was as a trial work-out for a major composition. Also mentioned on p. 140.

DATING Identical with cat. nos 140 and 141 in the very pale tonality and rapid, sketchy handling throughout."

Subjects depicted

Rowing boats; Sailing boats

Categories

Paintings

Collection code

PDP

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Qr_O82775
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