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The Painter's Two Daughters

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Date:

    ca. 1758 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Thomas Gainsborough, born 1727 - died 1788 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on canvas (two canvases joined)

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John Forster

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 52, The George Levy Gallery, case WS

Object Type
A portrait of this kind is reminiscent of the work of one of Gainsborough's most admired artists of the past, Van Dyck, whose portraits of children also had a slightly melancholy sweetness.

Subjects Depicted
The artist painted his daughters several times. Both daughters attended Blacklands School in Chelsea, London, where they learned to draw; Margaret also became an accomplished amateur musician. Mary married the oboe player Johann Christian Fischer in 1780, but they soon separated, and she developed eccentricities which eventually resulted in insanity. After their father's death in 1788, the two sisters lived together.

Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk, in 1727. He moved to London in 1740, studying at the St Martin's Lane Academy and associating with Hubert Gravelot and Francis Hayman. He returned to Suffolk in 1748; then moved to Bath in 1759 and established a successful portrait practice, although he regularly visited London. He exhibited at the Society of Artists and was invited to be a founder member of the Royal Academy in 1768. He also painted pictures in the sentimental manner of Murillo, and landscapes of a 'picturesque' kind.

Physical description

Since this painting was probably executed in 1758, Gainsborough's daughters would have been about ten and six years old. It appears that the girl on the spectator's left is the elder and she is therefore taken to be Mary (born ca. 1748) and the girl on the spectator's right is Margaret (born ca. 1752). As in all the other double portraits the girls are shown in close sisterly contact with each other; here they are linked by Mary's arm stretching up to rest on Margaret's hair (the girls' hair would have been cut in this short style to fit neatly under mob caps). Margaret turns to face us with an almost haughty expression.


ca. 1758 (painted)


Thomas Gainsborough, born 1727 - died 1788 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

oil on canvas (two canvases joined)


Height: 40.6 cm canvas, Width: 61.6 cm, Width: 58.4 cm canvas, Height: 57 cm frame, Width: 78.5 cm frame, Depth: 5 cm frame

Object history note

Bequeathed by John Forster, 1876
Painted by Thomas Gainsborough (born in Sudbury, Suffolk, 1727, died in London, 1788)

Descriptive line

Portrait of Mary and Margaret Gainsborough, the artist's two daughters

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

Neumeister, Mirjam ( ed.), The Changing Face of Childhood: British Children's Portraits and their Influence in Europe, Frankfurt, Städel Museum, 2007
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum. London: V&A, 1985, p.70

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Portraits of children form a distinctive category of portraiture in both painting and sculpture. Gainsborough's image of his two daughters, aged about nine and seven, has a touching intimacy and informality. Yet despite its apparent naturalness, this painting uses an established conventional pose showing the girls half-turned towards the artist. [27/03/2003]


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted



Children & Childhood; Paintings; Portraits; British Galleries


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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