Landscape with Rustic Lovers, Two Cows, and a Man on a Distant Bridge

Thomas Gainsborough, English, 1727 - 1788

Geography:
Made in England, Europe

Date:
c. 1755-1759

Medium:
Oil on canvas

Dimensions:
25 1/4 x 30 inches (64.1 x 76.2 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 281, European Art 1500-1850, second floor

Accession Number:
1964-103-1

Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Wharton Sinkler, 1964

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Additional information:
  • PublicationBritish Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Landscape with Rustic Lovers is one of a pair of landscapes said by Fulcher to have been painted for Gainsborough's old associate at the St. Martin's Lane Academy, Francis Hayman (1708-1776). Its pendant, Wooded Landscape with Peasants in a Country Wagon (c. 1756-57, oil on canvas, 25 x 30” {63.5 x 76.2 cm.}, Newcastle, Australia, private collection), shows rustics seated in a horse-drawn cart on a winding road, with a distant church spire and, to the right, a milkmaid and cattle on a hillock.1 Both are fantasy landscapes, but in the Philadelphia picture the feathery trees, rushing stream, ruined castle, and hazy mountains--even the overall blue tonality--belong to a tradition of pastoral imagery popular in France in the paintings of Watteau (1684-1721) and Boucher (1703-1770) and beginning to become fashionable in England in the landscapes of Zuccarelli (1702-1788). Populating this ethereal world are a pair of lovers lazing away the afternoon under the shade of a tree, two cows grazing nearby, and a man leaning on the railings of a distant bridge. We might be in countryside painted by Fragonard (1732-1806) were it not for the split trunk of a fallen tree in the foreground to remind us that all things pass away, and, more prosaically, that Gainsborough had arrived at this style after an earlier, prolonged study of landscapes of the seventeenth-century Dutch school.

    Waterhouse (Ellis K. Waterhouse. Gainsborough. London, 1958, p. 109) dated Rustic Lovers and its pendant to 1755-59. Hayes (John Hayes. The Landscape Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough: A Critical Text and Catalogue Raisonné. London and Ithaca, New York, 1982, vol 2, nos. 68, 79), while agreeing with Waterhouse on the dating of its companion (c. 1756-57), assigned a date to the Rustic Lovers of 1762-63: that is, to the early Bath period. To this author's eye, the styles of both the pendant and the Philadelphia work seem compatible with a date in the later 1750s. The Peasants in a Country Wagon has about it a naturalism absent from the Rustic Lovers, but could not the contrast in the treatment of the countryside in the two landscapes have been intentional? Hayes sees Rustic Lovers as a "lyrical masterpiece," but surely this is an exaggeration. For all its apparent lightness, here one feels that Gainsborough was not as comfortable with the rococo style in landscape as he was with his figures. Unlike, for example, the foliage in the famous Mountainous Wooded Landscape with Horse Drinking (57 1/2 x 62", Worcester, Massachusetts, Worcester Art Museum; Hayes, 1982, vol. 2, no. 80), which Hayes dated to c. 1763, the trees and foliage in Rustic Lovers are painstakingly worked over, so that the picture lacks, on the one hand, the freshness of the style of the early or mid-1750s, or, on the other, the lyricism Gainsborough so fully absorbed in the 1760s at Bath in response to the classical landscapes of the seventeenth century by Rubens (1577-1640) or Gaspard Dughet (1615-1675) seen in West Country houses. I would argue that Rustic Lovers is a more transitional picture than Hayes allowed and endorse dating to the late 1750s.

    Richard Dorment, from British Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: From the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Century (1986), pp. 114-115.

    1. John Hayes. The Landscape Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough: A Critical Text and Catalogue Raisonné. London and Ithaca, New York, 1982, vol. 2, no. 68, repro. p. 405.

    LITERATURE:
    George Williams Fulcher. Life of Thomas Gainsborough, R..A. 2nd ed. Edited by E. S. Fulcher. London, 1856, pp. 174, 207; William Roberts. Memorials of Christie's: A Record of Art Sales from 1766 to 1896. 2 vols. London, 1897, vol. 2, p. 276; Walter Armstrong. Gainsborough and His Place in English Art. London and New York, 1898, p. 207, pl. XXV opp. p. 100; Arthur B. Chamberlain, Thomas Gainsborough (London and New York, 1903), pp. 158-60, repro. p. 59; Walter Armstrong. Gainsborough and His Place in English Art. Rev. ed. London, 1904, p. 288; Ellis K. Waterhouse.Gainsborough. London, 1958, p. 109, no. 856, pl. 54; John Hayes. The Landscape Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough: A Critical Text and Catalogue Raisonné. 2 vols. London and Ithaca, New York, 1982, vol.1, pp. 35, 120, 271, vol. 2, pp. 417-19, no. 79, fig. 79.

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