Gainsborough’s Morning Walk | Talks for All| | National Gallery

Gainsborough’s Morning Walk | Talks for All| | National Gallery

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,
and welcome to the National Gallery. My name is Christine Riding. I’m Head of the Curatorial Department
here at the National Gallery, and I’m going to talk to you today about Thomas Gainsborough’s
‘The Morning Walk’, or, more specifically,
‘Mr and Mrs William Hallett’, which was actually painted in 1785. So, we’ve got half an hour
to unpack this particular work of art and I’m going to do it in three stages. Firstly, I’m going to talk about
British art here at the National Gallery and Thomas Gainsborough’s position
within that representation. I’m then going to move on
to Thomas Gainsborough’s career and how this painting
sits in his career as a whole, he was born in 1727 and died in 1788, so the significance of his career
both in terms of British art more broadly, but also in terms of him as an artist,
I will talk about in that second stage. And then, finally,
I’m going to talk about artistic ambition. I’m going to talk about artistic rivalries
because very famously, of course, Gainsborough was a great rival
of Joshua Reynolds, but also talk about how
we can think about this painting in the context of an artist’s ambition within the context of the tradition
of European painting and more particularly
about the Old Masters and how the Old Masters influenced
the way that Thomas Gainsborough thought, the way that he presented his work of art and the way that his work actually
developed over his career until his death, as I said, in 1788. Then I’m going to finish on a quote because I’m going to end on talking
about the title ‘The Morning Walk’ and where that came from and the kind of significance
one can think about in the context of a portrait, which, after all, is meant to be
about a specific human being, or human beings
as we have represented here, but how eventually the portrait
can become idealised or generalised to the extent that, in some sense,
it doesn’t really matter who the sitter is because it’s a work of art itself. And I think the title ‘The Morning Walk’, which comes into play much later,
after the creation of this work of art, actually indicates the kind of power of this kind of Grand Manner portrait and how one can think about, therefore,
Gainsborough’s ambitions in the type of creation
of this work of art and in terms of British art going forward into the 19th, 20th century
and 21st century. But the first thing I want to say
about this type of portrait in the context of the National Gallery is really about the history
of the National Gallery itself, which was actually begun in 1824. Now, to us that might seem
a very long time ago, and, in fact, in 2024
it will be 200 years ago, but actually British art
and the context of the National Gallery once it was set up in 1824
actually has a very special status because a lot of the artists in this room
hadn’t long been dead or indeed were still alive when the National Gallery was set up, and their works of art
actually came into the collection occasionally when they were
contemporary artists. So, we might look at this and think of it,
as is often said, in the context of paintings
that go from William Hogarth through to JMW Turner, the ‘Golden Age’ of British art. We need to think about this much more in
the context of modern and contemporary art when this institution was being set up. We also need to think
about the National Gallery in the context of the creation
of the Royal Academy in 1768, which, after all, was all about
the status of contemporary art, and the Royal Academy had
a unique position in British culture because it offered two things: number one, it trained artists, and number two, it gave artists
the opportunity to exhibit their works in a contemporary art contest,
and, indeed, I’m sure a number of you have been to the Royal Academy’s
summer show, that’s exactly the kind of
contemporary art show I’m talking about, well, we’re going right back
to the 18th century. So, I think it would be fun
to think about this painting in the context not of the Old Masters, not in terms
of the golden age of British art, but thinking about it
as living, breathing artists who want to establish
a career and reputation in the living, breathing world
of London and the United Kingdom in the 18th century itself. So, how do we position this painting
in that context? So, around you, you’ll see
what I’ve referred to you before as the golden age of British art. The collection here at the
National Gallery, on the whole, runs from William Hogarth, who’s often seen
as the father of British art. That’s actually rather anachronistic. And any of you that went
to the National Portrait Gallery to see a wonderful exhibition
of Nicholas Hilliard would know that British-born artists were establishing major careers at the court of Elizabeth I,
well beyond William Hogarth. And actually thinking
about the 17th century, William Dobson is
another British-born artist who established himself during the period that we normally think of
in terms of Van Dyck and Rubens and other artists from continental Europe
who came to London especially to establish
or further their careers. So, on the one hand, the presence
of the British art collection here, in some sense,
it’s this sort of good news story about the establishment
and the desire for a British art scene that was much more recalibrated to be balanced in terms of
where the artists actually came from, that you could have British-born artists
who had equal status to the kind of other artists that you
would like, the Van Dycks of this world, where you could
actually establish a reputation where you could have clients,
where you could have a successful career, and, equally, like the likes of Van Dyck, who was an absolute totemic artist
in the 18th and 19th century, not only could you be
financially successful, but obviously Van Dyck was also knighted. So, the thing about the Royal Academy is that it actually gave artists
a social status, because whether they were knighted or not they could still put RA
at the end of their names. They were Royal Academicians. They were part of an elite
group of artists who progressively,
as the 18th century went on, actually became much less focused
on artists from the continent and much more focused
on British-born artists. Now, I’m not sure if that’s necessarily
a good thing or not. I think, when the Academy
was set up in 1768, to have so many European artists
as part of the mix, including two women artists
of Swiss heritage, Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser, you have to get well into the 20th century before you see another
female Royal Academician, so good on the 18th century, boo to the 19th century. It’s actually that mix
of continental artists, of contemporary artists
in a kind of international context, rather than necessarily
just being about British art, I think actually gave
the British art scene its particular unique flavour,
shall we say, and I think that sort of interaction between the continent and Britain
and eventually North America, because the first president
of the Royal Academy was Joshua Reynolds,
Thomas Gainsborough’s great rival, but the second one was American,
Benjamin West, and the third, of course,
was Thomas Lawrence. And both Reynolds and Lawrence
were knighted, so you can see why people were so keen on the idea of a Royal Academy in 1768. I just want to point out one work of art
that was actually created in that year, which is Wright of Derby’s
‘Experiment with the Air Pump’, 1768. That’s an incredibly ambitious work of art
for a British artist of this period, so really what we’re talking about
is this kind of groundswell of excitement and interest
in art that’s created in Britain, rather than necessarily
always importing in the Old Masters or necessarily patronising artists
who were based in Paris and elsewhere. So, this is this is the kind of world
that Thomas Gainsborough is coming from. So, just to point out a couple of things
in terms of the actual development of the collection
here at the National Gallery. For example, that painting over there, ‘The Market Cart’,
which was painted by Gainsborough in 1786, that came into
the National Gallery’s collection, it was a gift from the governors
of the British Institution in 1830, only within 60 years of the creation
of the National Gallery itself. And Gainsborough had only been dead
for just nearly 40 years, so he was very much a kind of… I suppose it would be like getting
a gift of a Paul Nash or, you know, Lucian Freud or something. These are artists
that were still in people’s memories when they were coming into
the permanent collection of Old Masters as represented by the National Gallery. And an artist who was still alive at the time that a painting came
into the collection is John Constable, who is directly related
not just in terms of geography, they’re both from Suffolk,
Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable, and both were passionate about landscape,
which I’ll come back to in a moment. But ‘The Cornfield’ over there was actually donated in the year
of Constable’s death in 1837, so that was a piece of contemporary art. I know it graces lots of chocolate boxes
and biscuit tins and all the rest of it, but that was cutting-edge contemporary art
when it came into the collection. As indeed, really, was that. That was a very powerful signifier,
as indeed this painting, which came into the collection
in the mid-20th century, this kind of painting was
an incredibly powerful signifier of the establishment
of a British school of art, of ambitious, that responded both to the vagaries
of the British art market, but also responded
to the desire for Old Masters and also the training and inspiration
that one can get from art, whether contemporary or historic,
in terms of British culture. So, it is tremendously important
in terms of the way that British art operates
within the context of the collection, both from 1824 and today. So, talking very specifically
about Thomas Gainsborough, he was, as I said, born in 1727
in Sudbury, Suffolk. Has anyone been to Gainsborough’s house
in Sudbury Suffolk? Absolutely worth a trip. I think, actually, when you see
Sudbury, Suffolk and the area itself, you can sort of see the mindset
of an artist like Thomas Gainsborough and, indeed, John Constable in terms
of the kind of art that they create. And there’s absolutely no doubt that Gainsborough’s great passion
was landscape, but the problem with landscape
is the fact that, despite the fact that when you look
at this room, at ‘The Fighting Temeraire’, ‘Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus’,
‘The Hay Wain’, ‘The Cornfield’, I mean, to us now, we think of that genre as being absolutely
quintessentially English if not British, that is not true of when
Gainsborough was a young artist. It was a genre that had to establish
itself in terms of a native tradition. It was almost entirely dependent
on Old Masters coming in, especially from
the 16th and 17th centuries, and the big guns of landscape in terms of the market
in the 18th century, as far as patrons were concerned, were the likes of Claude Lorrain
and Salvator Rosa. These are artists that were working in
Rome, whether they be Italian or French, and this is very much part, as you know,
of the idea of the Grand Tour and the way that the Grand Tour
actually had a huge impact on taste and culture
in this country in the 18th century. Indeed, William Hallett actually was fresh off a Grand Tour
of two years when he married Elizabeth, which is obviously what this portrait
is essentially about. He’d been away for two years, and only the super wealthy, really,
could afford to go away for two years, wandering around France
and especially Italy, and the locus classicus
of the Grand Tour was Rome. That’s where you engage
with the ancient past. It’s where you engage
with the Renaissance. It’s also where there was
a big community of European artists ready to feed the burgeoning patronage
of these kind of tourists and the kind of work
that they were taking back. So, British artists have to respond. If they want to live and breathe,
they have got to respond to these bigger cultural changes. So, what kind of world
did Thomas Gainsborough get born into? So, he’s born in, as I say,
Sudbury, Suffolk. His father is actually
a milliner and a clothier, and he eventually becomes a postmaster. This is absolute classic background
for a British artist of the 18th century. They’re coming really from a kind of lower
middle-class level, also an artisan class, so, for example, forward wind to 1775 with the birth of JMW Turner at Maiden Lane
just down the road here in London, his father is a wig-maker and a barber. These people aren’t coming
from illustrious backgrounds, but they are coming from the kind of world that’s going to be interested in art
and art training. So, perhaps unsurprisingly, his father actually sends him off
to London at the age of 14, and he is then immersed in
the London art scene of William Hogarth, of other artists like Joseph Highmore
and British artists, but also an international crowd
of artists, and he goes into the studio
of Hubert Gravelot, who is a French artist, very much part of that cosmopolitan scene
of London in the period, and we’re actually talking
about this area of London. If you remind yourself
that, actually, the National Gallery used to be the Royal Mews, Trafalgar square didn’t exist,
it was Charing Cross, in fact. That’s what people referred to this area. This area was the centre of luxury trades. This is where Chippendale,
for example, set himself up. This is where the artists actually were. This is where the wealthy came to select their interiors
and their works of art and so on, so this is the hub
of the luxury and artistic world. It’s the moment
that Gainsborough comes to London. That’s obviously the reason
why his father sends him here. So, he’s engaging with what was called a very loose affiliation
of artists and Academy called St Martin’s Lane Academy, one of a number of things that were set up
by both British-born and European artists in order to, sort of, ignite
enthusiasm and discussions between artists and budding artists
in the London art world in a way that just did not exist
elsewhere in the United Kingdom, indeed nothing like the state patronage
that you would have got in Paris, and often you get British artists
looking longingly across the Channel at what was going on
in terms of state patronage, not just in terms of training
with the Académie française, but also these lovely, big
Catholic churches and palaces that needed to be filled
with works of art, and the absolute classic there,
of course, would be Louis XIV and Versailles. So, there weren’t the opportunities, but the young Gainsborough coming
into that kind of almost self-help group, the enlightened self-interest
of the artistic scene, actually came across
contemporary French art, he came across Dutch art. So, if you go in the adjoining room
next door and have a look
at ‘Cornard Wood’ from 1748, that is essentially a Dutch work of art
or Dutch-inspired work of art, but in the English landscape. I think this is what Gainsborough
is particularly good at, translating the Old Master tradition but very much anchored
in what people could recognise as an English country idyll and you can see this here
in this painting. So, he’s in the milieu
of William Hogarth and other artists, very cosmopolitan, very international. People often talk about the first half
of the 18th century in London as being a backwater;
it wasn’t, it was a crossroads. If artists couldn’t make a living,
if there weren’t opportunities, they wouldn’t have come to London,
but artists did come to London in the way that Van Dyck and Rubens
came to London in the previous century. There were fortunes to be made. There was a patronage to be gleaned
and there were opportunities. So, I think that’s really what would have
inspired Thomas Gainsborough at that time. In 1746, he marries, at the age of 19,
his wife Margaret. He has two children, Mary and Margaret, and we have two wonderful portraits
by him of his daughters, one next door from the 1750s. And he goes back to Sudbury
and starts creating works of art, for example, like ‘Mr and Mrs Andrews’, which we have hanging on the wall
next door, which is dated about 1750. And actually looking at
‘Mr and Mrs Andrews’ in conjunction with ‘The Morning Walk’
with Mr and Mrs Hallett, is actually quite illuminating, because that is an actual portrait
of two individuals who own the estate they’re sitting in, and you can look at the blades of grass and you can see
the different types of farming, these revolutionary methods of farming that this particular landowner,
Robert Andrew, actually brought to his estate. It’s very specific, very particular
and very English. Fast forward several decades, this painting, who knows where it is? Who knows why they’re walking
in the landscape? We don’t get any great sense
that they own this landscape at all. They are simply walking around,
and that sort of transformation from something that’s very specific to something that’s much more anchored
in the cult of sensibility that comes to play
in the second half of the 18th century is very much where this painting
is coming from. So, what is going on
in terms of that transition? So, Gainsborough goes back to Sudbury. He then moves to Ipswich,
then he makes a key decision in terms of what he’s going to do
with his career. He moves to Bath. Now, anyone that knows their Jane Austen
knows that Bath was a spa town, very fashionable,
lots of people went there, including people from London, of course, so rather than grapple
with the ever-growing art world in London and have immediate rivals that you may
or may not be able to square up to, Gainsborough goes to Bath because
he knows there’s opportunities there, that he can really sharpen his intellect,
sharpen his skills and so on, and he goes there in 1759. So, he’s really thinking through
what his next career move is going to be, and he stays in Bath for 14 years. And it’s in Bath that he creates
that painting just down there of Dr Schomberg,
what’s his first name, Ralph Schomberg, which was painted about 1760
at the time when he’s arrived in Bath. Now, the transformation in Bath
is a way, actually, I think, away from these relatively
small-scale works of art, the conversation pieces,
the small-scale portraits and so on that very much mark
the first part of his career, into these much more ambitious
large-scale, full-length portraits that are much more in keeping with the kind of tradition
of Old Master portraiture, and, of course, Van Dyck
looms large in this context. You can see him, his growing ambition, just in terms of the sheer scale
of the portraits that he’s doing, and this is very much a part
of this particular painting’s power, its scale, it’s much more ambitious,
much more aligned. You can imagine a full-length
by Van Dyck sitting here quite cheerfully in terms of its scale, its ambition,
but also the scale of the figures, and the kind of idealisation
that he’s bringing to bear in terms of the representation itself. And it’s absolutely in Bath… He’s seen Van Dyck in London, but it’s in Bath that Gainsborough
really engages with Van Dyck. And Van Dyck to him, although he’s interested in artists
like Velázquez and Murillo, this is the opening salvos
of interest in Spanish art, in Dutch art like Teniers
and Rubens, for example, and a huge figure in terms of a painting,
that unfortunately is not there, but ‘The Watering Place’ which was exhibited
at the Royal Academy in 1777, that was a direct response
to Rubens’s ‘The Watering Place’ that we actually have in our collection. So, it was a kind of English version,
if you like, of Rubens’s painting, but it was Van Dyck
that really did underline the kind of status, the success of
many artists, not just Gainsborough. Indeed, in Leicester Fields,
just around the corner from here, where many artists lived,
including William Hogarth, he put a golden bust of Van Dyck
above his door because that’s what people were supposed
to think about as they went through, not necessarily the artist,
but an artist of ambition who wants status
in a similar vein to Van Dyck. So, certainly Gainsborough
looked very closely at Van Dyck, not just in terms of composition but also in terms of technique, because of all the artists
of the 18th century that, I think, most closely resembled
the technique of Van Dyck it was Gainsborough, and he modelled
himself very particularly on him. So, eventually Van Dyck, not Van Dyck, Gainsborough decides
that he is going to come back to London and he comes back in 1774. Now, this is a moment, after the creation
of the Royal Academy in 1768, when he’s falling out
with the Royal Academy, and this is all about the positioning
of his works of art. Now, on the one hand,
it’s tremendously exciting that there’s this annual exhibition, the major event of contemporary art
going on, on an annual basis, where artists can submit
their works of art and actually, literally vie for attention with a crowd of people who’ve paid
their shilling to come through the door and have reviews in newspapers
and all this kind of stuff. The only problem is that you can only
guide exactly what happens to your painting
once it comes into the space, in the hope that the hanging committee,
as they were called, which would be led by the likes
of Joshua Reynolds, Gainsborough’s rival, is where they put your works of art. Are they going to be in a prominent
position, where you can see them properly? Are they going to be juxtaposed
with something that kills off your art? To be honest, I wouldn’t fancy being
next to the ‘Experiment with the Air Pump’ if I had a tiny subtle work of art
sitting next to that. I think you’d be blown
out of the water, frankly. And Gainsborough’s technique was
much more subtle than many other artists and the exciting thing about the creation of the Royal Academy and these exhibitions is it really pumped up
the London art scene. On the other, you did have artists actually creating works of art
specifically for the exhibition, and Reynolds was
continually complained about because he heightened
the colour of his paintings that would then ‘fly away’,
as the reviewers would say, they start fading almost immediately in order for them to have wall power in the context of
the Royal Academy annual exhibition. So, in that context, technique that is more subtle,
more feathery, more playful, is actually going to have
quite a hard time in that very robust, sort of, high-octane world
of the contemporary exhibition. And Gainsborough really didn’t feel
that his paintings were, given his status at this point,
at the creation of the Royal Academy, his paintings weren’t being exhibited in a way that was fair
to his works of art. So, he withdrew in the 1770s and exhibited in his house
in Schomburg House, which still exists down Pall Mall. If you’re walking down
towards James’s Palace, walk past the Travellers
and the Reform Club and on the left-hand side is
a very strange 17th-century house, that’s where Gainsborough lived,
so very prominently, central, just around the corner from
the National Gallery where we are now, and he exhibited his works in that house. He also falls out with the Royal Academy
in the 1780s as well, to the extent that this painting, which would absolutely have been worthy
of a Royal Academy exhibition, actually isn’t exhibited there, it’s exhibited in Schomburg House, as indeed is that fabulous portrait of
Sarah Siddons, painted in the same year. That too was exhibited
in the artist’s house. Now, obviously not as prominent
as an annual exhibition, but nonetheless artists’ studios
and houses were becoming increasingly
the places to go to as a kind of genteel kind of pastime, as well as a way of seeing
contemporary art in a different context. But, at that point, Gainsborough
has had enough of the Royal Academy, and he dies in 1788
having never exhibited there again. So, the last bit
I want to talk about, really, is about Gainsborough as an artist sitting in the context
of the British art scene of that period, but also about the way
that Gainsborough operated in the context
of the Old Master tradition. So, just delving into this painting
a little bit more, we’ve talked about the fact that Gainsborough really wanted
to be a landscape painter, that was his real passion, he was absolutely an exemplar
for the likes of John Constable at a moment when landscape
really wasn’t achieving much purchase in terms of the British market. So, what he would do in terms of the
annual exhibitions when he was exhibiting was actually exhibit many more portraits, many of which were commissioned,
he was going to be paid for them, and for double portraits like this
he would have been paid 120 guineas, which is about £126,
which is an enormous sum of money. A single portrait
would be about 100 guineas, about £105, the dog was just chucked in
for good measure, a horse would be additional. So, presumably, because
it’s a small creature, it’s fine. So, there was lots of money to be made
in portraiture, but not in landscape, and every exhibited landscape
by Gainsborough was speculative, in other words,
he didn’t have a buyer when he made it. But he was hoping,
teasing the market a little bit to see what might fly eventually. And I think, really, the battle
that Gainsborough fought and other people interested in landscape, the battle that he fought
by the end of his career in 1788 absolutely made way for the likes
of Turner and Constable going on into the late 18th,
early 19th century. Really, it’s him and other artists like
him testing the market the entire time that really established an interest
in British contemporary landscape at a moment when it really
didn’t have a market. So, then going back
to this kind of painting, therefore, I suppose what you could summarise
by saying is actually that he knew that he would
make money out of portraiture, he was extremely good at it, he had a certain way of doing portraiture that was very different
from Joshua Reynolds, his great rival, but, on the other hand, it always
signalled something higher, if you like, than just the simple fact
of the individual standing here, but we’ve got to tease out
those subtleties a bit more than you would, for example,
with a Reynolds portrait, with someone histrionically gesturing
in a Classical robe, an actress or something,
where it’s pretty clear that you’re using the profession
of acting and actors to elevate your portrait
towards history painting, which during the entire 18th century
was deemed to be the highest form of art. This is what artists were aspiring to, it was the most intellectual,
the most idealised, the most strenuous,
both physically and in aesthetic terms, so pushing portraiture which can be sold towards that elevation of art, towards the idea of history painting. And with Gainsborough,
he really wasn’t interested in really melding the Classical
or the Renaissance with a person that was going to walk out
and have a cup of tea, I mean, he really thought
that that was just bonkers, but what you could do
with the Old Masters, which actually Turner does
with ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ much later, is use the Claudian sunsets, use the link to Van Dyck, use the kind of scale and composition, but position these people
in their own time. Update the Old Master edition, learn from it,
get inspired by it, reinvigorate it, use it to take your art forward, but don’t mimic it, don’t pastiche it, that’s really not
where you’re going with it, and that’s exactly what he’s doing here. So, for example, you do have
the Claudian sunset. We don’t know where it is,
it’s this English idyll or British idyll. It could be anywhere, but they’re
walking in a kind of landscape. They’ve become tremendously fashionable. Actually, when you think that
Capability Brown only died in 1783, five years before Gainsborough, he was responsible
for about 170 park lands that were sort of gardens but not,
they were meant to look entirely natural despite the fact
that they were entirely artificial. So, this is mirroring the trend
in the second half of the 18th century towards the idea
of a kind of natural landscape that the British people would walk through as a kind of parallel
with the ideas of English liberty, not these weird gardens
that are kind of, you know, hemmed in, hedged and cut
within an inch of their lives in all these different shapes
that one got on the continent, in France, but rather these kind of undulating hills where nature seems to have been kissed
by God kind of thing, but it was actually Capability Brown. So, it’s more about the kind of naturalism
and yet so artificial, which actually, in some sense, underlines
why this is such a fashionable painting. And then just in terms
of the actual figures themselves, this juxtaposition of black and white, this idea of the sunset and the light coming from her ivory-coloured silk dress
on the left-hand side with this lovely echo
of the kind of grape-green bow that’s actually at her breast,
which is mirrored up in the hat. The hat is black
with the white ostrich feathers, very similar to the hat that Mrs Siddons
is wearing over there, very, very fashionable,
but also very flamboyant, but also because
of this kind of mistiness of it, the mistiness of the kerchief
around her breast, around the way that he’s actually painted so you can see
the ground grinning through, you actually see
the base colour of this painting because his he’s kind of used
such sketchiness in terms of the sort of vibrancy
of the techniques, and the way that her dress actually melds
into the Pomeranian dog as if they’re one with each other,
these kind of natural creatures, and then the way that melds
into the background. And then on the other side you have him, I mean, no one wears this
in the countryside, by the way, in this sort of silk,
black velvet frock suit, with his hands holding onto the hat
and his hand in his top here, again this juxtaposition
of black and white with the white accents here, he has his hair powdered,
which you wouldn’t in the countryside, you would have your hair natural. So, in fact, it is thought
that this is a wedding portrait, that they are wearing the outfits that they would have worn
at their wedding in July, 1785, but I think what’s really clever
about this painting is this kind of warmness
that you see in the background and then this juxtaposition
of white and black either side, they’re like negatives of each other in terms of the actual composition
in itself. Now, can anyone think of a very
famous painting by Gainsborough that utilises the very stark contrast
between a single colour in the centre and the warm landscape around it
that is very famous in the present day? ‘The Blue Boy’. So, this idea of this Van Dyckian figure, which is now known
to be actually his nephew, Gainsborough Dupont, actually stepping out
of a warm Claudian landscape in this single blue colour,
which is so striking in that particular painting, actually being juxtaposed here in
his representation of Mr and Mrs Hallett. So, just going back,
if you look at ‘The Archers’ here, this is a Henry Raeburn painting, that’s more the sort of thing
you’d wear in the countryside. You’d be wearing your drabs
and your browns and plain woollen outfits. You wouldn’t dust your hair,
you wouldn’t be wearing wigs. Dr Schomberg is only wearing a wig
because he’s a doctor, even though they were completely out
of fashion by the end of the 18th century. So, this is a kind of artificial portrait in a sense that
you wouldn’t expect to see these two wandering around an English idyll
in these kind of clothes, but nonetheless it’s a juxtaposition,
the idea of the cult of sensibility, the idea of nature, the idea of liberty, all these kind of political,
social and cultural contexts that are brought to bear
in terms of the power of this painting. So, I just want to move on to the fact, very briefly, this idea of Gainsborough
and the Old Master tradition. Many of you might have looked
at this painting and thought just a portrait of two people,
rather grand, rather lovely, but hey ho. The thing is I think
the subtlety of the way that Gainsborough utilises
the Old Masters does need teasing out because actually it’s part of his ambition
as an artist that he can persuade you that he’s part of the tradition
of the Old Masters, not pastiching it or avoiding it, he’s actually engaging with it. So, I think what we have here
is actually, as I said before, a portrait that could sit very cheerfully
next to your Van Dyck. It could also sit very cheerfully
next to a Thomas Lawrence, in fact, that’s an artist, he’s the third
president of the Royal Academy from the first part,
he comes to prominence in the 1790s, learning very much from Gainsborough. There’s a wonderful portrait next door
in his early career of Queen Charlotte, the same shimmering technique,
the same interest in Van Dyck, clearly the heir to Gainsborough, not actually Reynolds, I don’t think,
in that particular instance. You could forward wind to Whistler,
you could forward wind to Sargent, go into the 20th century and think about how these artists
are playing off each other. When you look at a Whistler,
you know it’s a Whistler, but you can also see Van Dyck, you can
see Gainsborough, you can see Reynolds, you can see all these artists that these
artists are learning from in a lineage, but updating the tradition
that they’re engaging with to create a contemporary work of art. But I just want to refer, therefore, to the title, as my last point,
‘The Morning Walk’. So, this is not a title that
the painting had in the 18th century. Indeed, if this had been exhibited, it
would have been exhibited under the title of ‘Lady and Gentleman in a Landscape’. Most of the time,
unless you knew it was Sarah Siddons, you wouldn’t recognise the people
unless you knew them. But, going back to the whole issue
about portraiture, about being a specific individual, over time, if we didn’t know
this was Mr and Mrs Hallett, how do we actually engage
with this as a painting? Do we just accept that this is a couple
who have since died? Or do we think of it as a work of art
and how are we supposed to appreciate it? So, just to give you an example
of the way that, in many ways, these kind of Grand Manner paintings
are a kind of glorious fiction, or at least that human beings that can
be gorgeous that young at one point may not always be gorgeous
and wonderful as they get older, because William Hallett, his great vice was, in fact, horse racing. So, this is what this reviewer
is referring to in The Times and this was during an exhibition
in the 1850s, 1859, at the British Institution
when this painting was on display. And William Hallett had only died in the early part of the 1840s, so everyone remembered him
when they looked at these paintings and I quote the reviewer: ‘Mr Hallett is only known to fame
as a patron of the turf. As he is here presented,
it would be difficult to conceive a more perfect realisation of
youthful elegance and high breeding. He is worthy of the sweet, young woman
who wears the budding honours of wifedom with such pretty pride, her hand resting with a fond
and confined pressure on her new husband’s arm, happy young couple
to be handed down to posterity before the world had withered
the young wife’s roses, before the turf and the bottle
has soured the husband’s brow and reddened his nose or the gout stiffened and swelled
those shapely legs of his.’ So, in some sense,
it’s the idea, I think, that you can see how you’re now moving
out of the specific work of art, because in some senses they’re recognising
that this is an individual who perhaps didn’t look like this
when they died a couple of years earlier, but also the power
of this kind of portrait, this kind of moment
when people are beautiful, young, idyllic, wandering through
these landscapes. And this is where I think
the title ‘Morning Walk’ comes in in the way that ‘The Blue Boy’
is a portrait of Gainsborough’s nephew, but we all refer to it as ‘The Blue Boy’, so it becomes more than a portrait
of an individual, it becomes a kind of manifesto for art, and indeed I’m personally of the opinion, when ‘The Blue Boy’ was exhibited in the Manchester Art Treasures
exhibition of 1857, which incidentally Whistler
went specifically to see, almost immediately within years
he’s using phrases like ‘The White Girl’ or ‘Symphony in White’. Why does he start focusing
on the idea of colour? And I think ‘The Blue Boy’,
because of the title, draws you into thinking of the painting as beyond a specific representation
of an individual. It becomes this uber work of art. And I think the title ‘Morning Walk’ allows you to think of this portrait as actually not as just a portrait, but as a work of art. So, where did the title
‘Morning Walk’ come from? It actually came at the moment when the painting was sold out of
the Hallett family and to the Rothschilds in the 1880s, and it’s thought to come through
with this tradition in British art of exhibiting paintings
with lines from poetry. In the 18th century, it could be
Shakespeare, it could be Milton, and actually a very popular poem, in fact, was James Thomson’s ‘The Seasons’, and ‘Summer’ has these lines, and I quote: ‘When every Muse and every
blooming pleasure wait without, to bless the wildly devious
morning walk…’ And that, we think, is where it came from.
Thank you.

Dereck Turner

19 thoughts on “Gainsborough’s Morning Walk | Talks for All| | National Gallery

  1. NickPenlee says:

    OK, so this was quite an informed talk and allows one to see this well known painting in a new light I think. It was a well thought out presentation and succeeded in helping us all to see the context, both artistic and cultural, that the painting was 'born' into.
    I didn't realise how much Gainsborough 'challenged' the art establishment of his era and instead put full trust in his own abilities.
    Very interesting!

  2. Barbara Johnson says:

    Terrific! I have recently come to appreciate Gainsborough, via his incrediblely expressionistic landscape drawings, the love of material and invention. Wonderfully insightful presentation. I felt his "time" vividly

  3. joshua320 says:

    Had to infect the talk with utterly irrelevant stuff about women Academicians or lack thereof.

  4. Helly H says:

    Thank you so much for so many interesting insights. I used to visit the National Gallery practically every week as an Art student…but this was a painting I never liked that much.Fascinating to learn so much and to see this painting with new eyes.

  5. MAVASA * Ramesh S says:

    Thank you 🙏🏽

  6. Hatechicken official says:


  7. 조현진 says:

    Good presentation!

  8. Karl Holden says:

    A Pomeranian? Surely not. It looks more like a Japanese Spitz to me.

  9. Dave says:

    A tidal wave of art words.

  10. ian d says:

    Always loved this picture since I was a child. Always thought the lady had such a lovely serene expression.

  11. Claudio Saltara says:

    Please someone tell her to catch her breath. Too much to fast, but very good

  12. Reverend Saltine says:

    Could not stand this talky old frump. I quit at 1:10

  13. damian lanigan says:

    For God's sake talk about the damn painting. This is torture.

  14. damian lanigan says:

    25 minutes in. Still not talking about the painting. Amazing.

  15. danthebrave says:

    Idiot SJW.

  16. Montgomery Clift says:

    Her head fits actually perfectly into the color range of the painting!

  17. Sarah Williams says:

    Interesting stuff. However the first three minutes can be deleted. Please could professional speakers stop referring to "unpacking" a topic, and stop telling us what they are going they speak about before they actually do? It's wearying to listen to.

  18. Sharyle Doherty says:

    Wonderful informative talk. I enjoyed how the speaker connected Gainsborough to his predecessors, contemporaries, and successors. Lovely to see the chain of artistic influences.

  19. fb pliegorrivero says:

    Beautiful talk. Thank you.

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