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Thomas Gainsborough sketches found at Windsor Castle

17th July 2017

Over 24 sketches by 18th-century artist Thomas Gainsborough have been found at Windsor Castle after being unnoticed in another artist’s portfolio for more than a century. 

Around 26 drawings by the illustrious painter were discovered in an album in the Royal Collection from the 19th century and credited to Sir Edwin Landseer. However, art historians Lindsay Stainton and James Hamilton now believe them to be incorrectly attributed.

They were allegedly sketched by Sir Edwin Landseer, who was one of the queen’s favourite artists. Instead, the pieces are actually thought to be early works by Gainsborough, who is renowned for his lifelike portraits and British country landscapes. 

The drawings are created using of black and white chalk and portray surroundings in Sudbury in Suffolk, which is where Gainsborough was born. Now, the Royal Collection is drawing up plans to showcase them for the first time ever. 

One of the studies relates to a famous 1748 Gainsborough painting in the National Gallery titled Cornard Wood, Near Sudbury Suffolk. The other piece may be a composition for a lost and previously unheard of image.

Speaking to the Guardian, Rosie Razzall, the Royal Collection’s curator of prints and drawings, said: “We’re really excited by this discovery … If it means we have 26 early drawings in the collection, that’s really significant.”

Ms Stainton was the first to identify Gainsborough’s style in the art pieces when she visited Windsor Castle. She described the discovery as fascinating, expressing her excitement at the arrival of the 26 drawings. 

Mr Hamilton will feature the discovery in his new book Gainsborough: A Portrait, which will be published on August 10th by Weidenfeld & Nicholson. He explained that few of the artist’s drawings have survived and the new sketches show him at his most energetic.

The reason for the collection being overlooked for so long was the false credit given to Landseer. However, he simply acquired them and they were collected by the queen when she picked up a selection of his sketches. 

Ms Stainton explained: “The executors thought they were by Landseer as they were from his studio. One of the mysteries is how on earth he acquired them. He wasn’t really a collector of other artists’ work.

“Landseer has been unfashionable for so long – apart from his wonderful landscape oil sketches – that I don’t suppose anybody really bothered with them. But there they were, tucked away.”

She went on to say that the landscape drawings prove how Gainsborough’s work was inspired by nature. 

The collection appears to be from an early phase in the UK’s landscape history at a time when Gainsborough was simply “out in the field drawing”.

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