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

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1783 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Thomas Gainsborough, born 1727 - died 1788 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    transparent oil on glass

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Ernest E. Cook through Art Fund

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Paintings, Room 88, The Edwin and Susan Davies Galleries, case EAST WALL

This is a study for an oil painting exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1783. Another Gainsborough glass transparency, also at the V&A, depicts an earlier version of the composition, but in reverse. These show how Gainsborough used transparencies when planning a major composition.

Physical description

This is catalogue no. 140 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. 140:
Both this transparency and one other also of a coastal scene (museum number P.43-1955), are preliminary ideas for a large oil on canvas now in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (Hayes cat. no. 141). The composition of this transparency is the reverse of P.43-1955, with the pointing figure on the left of the picture. The rowing boat off-shore, which appears in both P.43-1955 and the final canvas, has also been removed.

The composition of this transparency is closest to the finished oil and differs only in the number of boats and arrangement of the sails. This transparency and museum number P.43-1955 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.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (painted)


ca. 1783 (painted)


Thomas Gainsborough, born 1727 - died 1788 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

transparent oil on glass


Height: 27.9 cm, Width: 33.7 cm

Object history note

Hayes 1982, cat. no. 140, p. 506

"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 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. 506-507, cat. no. 140


Oil paint; Glass


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Sailing boats; Rowing boats




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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