MR AND MRS ROBERT ANDREWS
1749-50; oil on canvas: 70 x 118 cm (28 x 48 in); National Gallery, London.
This painting celebrates and commemorates the marriage of the young Robert and Frances Andrews in November 1748. The couple are shown beneath an oak tree on their estate near Sudbury, where Gainsborough was born. The setting enables him to express his gift as a landscape painter, while displaying some of the vast grounds of the house -confirming the couple's social status. During the reign of George II. Britain was already a great world power. The ruling class had grown rich from the products of their lands (in the foreground of this painting, the artist includes a few sheaves of newly scythed wheat), colonial trade, and financial speculation. The lesser gentry, or squirearchy, was also sharing in this prosperity and felt secure because of its growing influence in Parliament. This portrait, which remained in the Andrews family until I960, perfectly documents the style of the young Gainsborough. He was influenced by the work of the great 17th-century Dutch landscape artist Jacob van Ruysdael. while already moving towards a Romantic style. English painters were not disposed to the extravagant and frivolous rocaille fashions that held sway in Continental Europe. Instead, they assumed a preference for formality and an emphasis on tradition that led to an early espousal of Neoclassicism (incorporating some characteristics of Rococo), which, in turn evolved into a form of Romanticism.
1. The painting's dimensions conform to the rules of the Golden Section. The canvas can be split into two overlapping squares: their division runs just below the horizon and slightly higher than the upper bodies of the subjects. At first glance, the left-hand square appears to be a double portrait and the right-hand square a landscape. These two sides are fused by the artist's harmonious use of colour and the continuity provided by the background. The positive" element of the great oak tree behind the couple has a symmetrical relationship lo the "negative" emptiness centred in the right-hand square.
2. The "empty" half of the picture, the landscape, enabled the artist to construct a perspectival view of the composition without resorting to the use of distortion. The viewer's gaze is led to the couple on the left-hand side, the natural central point of interest in the composition, linking various important elements, diagonal alignments lead us towards the unusual placing of the focal point in the distance. The painting displays a deep love of nature in all its freedom and beauty that is typical of English sensibility: in this, the work prefigures the Romantic movement.
3. The amount of space devoted to the landscape paradoxically serves to emphasize the two figures. Frances Andrews is the more prominent of the two. the fullness of her pale blue skirl corresponding to the shape of the clouds in the background. The meticulously drawn sheaves of wheat are symbolic inferences to fertility- highly appropriate in a portrait of a newly-wed couple.
4. The indications of social status are more evident in the male figure. His magnificent gun — a country gentleman s sporting weapon - indicates prestige and distinction. A whimsical but coherent inter-weaving of lines combines the shape of the tree roots, the legs, the gun. and the dog. The painter creates a naturalistic portrait full of light. His brushwork is deft, with a delicacy of glazing and a transparency rarely seen in oil colours. He used long brushes and well-diluted colour to achieve these effects, most evident in the highlights of the fabrics and the texture of the skin.
5. The contrast between the crisp outlines of the tricorne bat, the comfortable cut of the jacket, and the neatly tied stock around his long neck, provide examples of English elegance that even the French Court emulated in this era. While the bark of the tree is painted with light brushwork. the woman's bauds remain enigmatically unfinished. The subject's represent the English upper class, in their country home, with its distinctions of rank and wealth. They bare delicate hut clear-cut features, elongated faces, unsmiling mouths, and a composed, slightly superior air