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Oil painting - Wooded River Landscape with Fisherman in a Rowing Boat, High Banks and Distant Mountains
  • Wooded River Landscape with Fisherman in a Rowing Boat, High Banks and Distant Mountains
    Thomas Gainsborough, born 1727 - died 1788
  • Enlarge image

Wooded River Landscape with Fisherman in a Rowing Boat, High Banks and Distant Mountains

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1783-1784 (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:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case BECK, shelf 1, box 5

This is a picturesque but artificial landscape. In it Gainsborough uses rocky outcrops of scenery to emphasise the character of the winding river. He transposed the motif of a fisherman at work with a net from his coastal scenes.

Physical description

This is catalogue no. 155 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. 155:
The development of the design in a series of coulisses [side scenes in theatre] can be paralleled in a number of landscapes of this period... but this is the first case in which the middle distance is not filled by trees and in which the winding course of the river dominates the composition. The fisherman netting is a motif developed from Gainsborough's coastal scenes.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (painted)


ca. 1783-1784 (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. 155, p. 527

"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

Wooded river Landscape with Fisherman in a Rowing Boat, High Banks and Distant Mountains; on glass

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. 527, cat. no. 155

Labels and date

Thomas Gainsborough 1727-1788
Wooded River Landscape, with Fisherman in a
Rowing Boat

About 1783-1784

In this picturesque but artificial landscape,
Gainsborough emphasised the spatial character
of the winding river by rocky outcrops of scenery.
The motif of a fisherman at work with a net was
transposed from the artist's coastal scenes.

Oil on glass

Bequeated through the National Art Collections Fund
by Ernest E. Cook 1955
Museum no. P.39-1955 []


Oil paint; Glass


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Boat; Fishing; River; Landscape




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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