Thomas Gainsborough

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Thomas Gainsborough
Lady Walking in a Garden
ca. 1785
Black and white chalks with smudging, worked wet and dry, watercolor, on laid paper.
19 1/2 x 12 1/4 inches (495 x 312 mm)
III, 63b

This celebrated drawing by the English portraitist Thomas Gainsborough is one of five studies of single figures that have been connected with his preparations for The Richmond Water-Walk, a painting that was to feature stylish ladies of the day promenading along the banks of the River Thames in London. The painting was reportedly commissioned by George III as a companion picture to The Mall, now at the Frick, but was apparently never executed. The other figure studies are in the British Museum, London; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; and a New York private collection. When Pierpont Morgan acquired the present drawing, it was believed to represent Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806), whose famous portrait by Gainsborough in oil on canvas, now in a private collection, Morgan had acquired three years earlier. While the head in the present drawing is clearly individualized, it is a likeness of neither the duchess nor Sophia Charlotte, Lady Sheffield, whose portrait Gainsborough painted in 1785 and whose pose is identical to that of the present subject. It is likely that Gainsborough intended these figure drawings to serve as patterns for multiple artworks beyond the intended painting.
According to Sir Henry Bate-Dudley's mention of the painting in The Morning Herald of 20 October 1785, Gainsborough's Richmond Water-Walk was to have been a “companion to his beautiful Watteau-like picture of the Park-scene, the landscape, Richmond water-walk, or Windsor-all the figures portraits.” A drawing in a New York private collection includes indications of a body of water and a far bank, in agreement with a riverside locale. Gainsborough traditionally is thought to have executed the figure studies from life, perhaps in the environs of Richmond, where he had a house, or in St. James park, according to a note on the verso of one of the British Museum studies written by his friend William Pearce, who indicates that Gainsborough sketched these figures in the park for a Royal commission. But he may have studied the figures from dolls or poseable mannequins dressed in contemporary fashion, possibly “of his own creation,” as he had done for the figures in The Mall, according to another friend, William Jackson.
Whatever his models, Gainsborough's close attention in all five studies to such details of fashion as the broad-brimmed picture hat and loose-flowing curls helps to date the drawings to about 1785. Indeed, his primary focus was the costumes rather than the underlying structure and anatomy of the figures. In the present sheet, the most richly worked of the group, the billows and satiny sheen of the fabrics are evoked in overlapping layers of both wet and dry white chalk, with gently smudged black chalk suggesting shadows in the deep folds. Single strokes of chalk representing lace at the neckline and ribbons falling from the waist are applied with swift confidence, making the drawing seem almost to vibrate with energy. Ultimately, the King rejected The Mall for its lack of topographical specification, and nothing seems to have come of the companion piece which inspired such bravura preparations.


Watermark: none visible through lining.

Margaret Burr Gainsborough (ca. 1728-1798), the artist's wife; Margaret Gainsborough (1751-1820), the artist's daughter; either Henry Briggs (possibly his sale, London, Christie's, 25 February 1831, lot 115) or Sophia Lane (1764-1846), Hereford, the artist's niece; her son, Richard James Lane (1800-1872), London; Charles Frederick Huth (1806-1895), London; his sale, London, Christie's, 19 March 1904, lot 7 (to Vicars); J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913), New York (no mark; see Lugt 1509); by descent to J.P. Morgan, Jr. (1867-1943), New York; acquired from his estate, 1943.
Associated names: 

Gainsborough, Margaret Burr, approximately 1728-1798 former owner.
Gainsborough, Margaret, 1751-1820, former owner.
Briggs, Henry, former owner.
Lane, Sophia, former owner.
Lane, Richard, 1800-1872, former owner.
Huth, Charles Frederick, former owner.
Morgan, J. Pierpont (John Pierpont), 1837-1913, former owner.
Morgan, J. P. (John Pierpont), 1867-1943, former owner.


Bolzoni, Marco S. Thomas Gainsborough : Experiments in Drawings. New York : The Morgan Library & Museum, 2018, p. 71, no. 12, repr.
From Leonardo to Pollock: Master drawings from the Morgan Library. New York: Morgan Library, 2006, cat. no. 59, p. 126-127.
Hayes, John. “Gainsborough's 'Richmond Water-Walk.'” The Burlington Magazine 111, no. 790 (1969): 28-31.
Rosenthal, Michael and Martine Myrone, eds. Thomas Gainsborough: 1727-1788, Exh. cat. London: Tate Britain; Washington: National Gallery of Art; Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2002.
Wiles, Stephanie. To Observe and Imagine : British Drawings, 1600-1900. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1998, no. 37, repr. On cover.

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