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THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH

COTTAGE DOOR, CA.1780

About the Artwork

Other painters routinely toured rural England on sketching trips, but Gainsborough seems to have gone in search of spiritual sustenance as well as artistic material. His conception of the countryside as a place where life could be enjoyed "in quietness and ease" reflects the romantic sensibilities of his time-- particularly the ideal of rural retirement that colors much contemporary poetry. This poetic concept fed a burgeoning national nostalgia for the idyllic rusticity of a mythical "olde England," and also informed the genteel fantasy of cottage life as an existence of wholesome simplicity and robust health, rather than of poverty and hard labor. The artificiality of Gainsborough's concept of rural cottage life is suggested by the fact that although he began to record scenes of peasant families gathered outside their woodland cottages in the late 1760s, it was only after his 1774 move from Bath to London (when his distance from the countryside was greatest and the demands of his portrait practice most taxing) that he became deeply engaged in the theme as a vehicle for expressing the pleasurable sensations he associated with rural domesticity.

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