Take one Picture 2015

Mr and Mrs Andrews, about 1750
by Thomas Gainsborough
The National Gallery, London

The Picture

The couple are Robert Andrews and his wife Frances, who had married in 1748. Soon after his marriage Robert Andrews inherited the house and estate of Auberies, the setting for the painting. It has been suggested that this is not just a double portrait but a triple portrait of Andrews, his wife and his estate. The painting looks out across the landscape, south over the valley of the River Stour, the county boundary with Essex. The Andrews are looking towards the location of their substantial brick-built house, which cannot be seen. As he owned 3,000 acres, much of the landscape behind them belonged to Robert Andrews.

The scene, well known to both artist and patron, is depicted more accurately than in any other Gainsborough painting. At the far left is a view of the square tower of Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, three miles away, while in the centre distance there is a glimpse through the trees of the parish church of All Saints, Sudbury, where the Andrews had been married. The oak tree under which they pose still stands, though it is no longer living. The artist has allowed himself some licence by showing a newly harvested cornfield, which stands far too close to the house to be likely.

The couple are shown informally. Mr Andrews stands with his hunting gun and retriever. Mrs Andrews, rather more self-conscious and stiff, is perched on a wonderful curving garden bench, which may well be an invention. Its playful curves are echoed in the figures and in the tree roots, reflecting the contemporary taste for Rococo design that Gainsborough would have absorbed during his London training. His teacher Gravelot was a book illustrator and designer as well as drawing master and played an important role in transmitting Rococo designs from France.