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Friday, 7 August 2015

HIGHLIGHTS: Goya and Gainsborough at the Courtauld Gallery, London

The 18th century permanent collection at the Courtauld Gallery houses magnificent examples of English portraiture, including the only full-length portrait by Francisco Goya in Britain and Thomas Gainsborough's enthralling and affectionate painting of his wife Margaret:

Portrait of Don Francisco de Saavedra
Francisco de Goya, Portrait of Don Francisco de Saavedra, 1798 The Courtauld Gallery, London
Goya's painting of Spanish politician Francisco de Saavedra was part of a double commission; the artist also painted Saavedra's close friend and ally Gaspar de Jovellanos. Both men were appointed to the two highest political offices in Spain: Minister of Finance and Minister of State. 

Saavedra sits facing the right, on a round-backed chair. Well-known for his sincerity, Saavedra seems poised as if to leave his paper-strewn desk. It is possible that the portrait's simple background shows Goya's knowledge of 18th century English portraiture, while also acknowledging Saavedra's wellordered and 'English' household. 
Portrait of Margaret Gainsborough, c.1779, The Courtauld Gallery, London
Margaret Burr married Gainsborough at the young age of 18 and it is believed that this portrait celebrates her 50th birthday. The intimacy of this painting is shown in Margaret's frontal pose, direct gaze and subtle smile. Margaret wears a mantle lined with black lace, which is draped over her head and shoulders. It is formed from an energetic swirl of brush-strokes that begin around her head and continue in the positioning of her hands. 

Gainsborough's rhythmic brushwork became increasingly evident towards the latter part of his career. He also experimented with the effects of transparency and light. This is visible in the strong silhouette of Margaret's mantle, which is illuminated by the light source behind her left side. This reflects Gainsborough's experiments with the contemporary fashion of painting transparent images on glass, which when lit from behind by candlelight could produce a luminous and dynamic light. 

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