The Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede may be small, it does organise interesting exhibitions. Impressions and images from their “Alexander Roslin” still come to mind. It was an impressive exhibition – as is their current one on Thomas Gainsborough.
The exhibition shows drawings and paintings by Gainsborough linked to his personal letters. Of course there are examples of his “landskips”. After all: he admired Dutch landscape painters and there is at least one drawing inspired by a landscape by van Ruisdael.
There are also portraits, but mainly portraits of Gainsborough‘s friends and relatives. There is a portrait of Mrs Gainsborough as well as a drawing of her. If you visit the exhibition, you will also “meet” David Garrick and Johann Christian Bach, as well as a number of other friends. Letters Gainsborough wrote to family members and friends can be seen and read in the same rooms.
The letters are revealing and often hilarious. They show the painter as quite outspoken … to friends he trusted. It is clear, he had a problem balancing various demands made upon his time. There are comments on paintings he made for rich clients; which brought in bread, butter, success – but which Gainsborough calls “cursed face business”. In another letter, he deplores his lack of time to do what he really wants: paint landscapes and play music with friends.
One of the rooms shows costumes and musical instruments from Gainsborough’s time. Instruments Gainsborough played and mention in his letters are on show, like a viola da gamba and harp. There is even an original male costume which closely resembles the costume one of his rich clients wears in a painting close by.
Another room contains various instruments, as Gainsborough lived during the Age of Enlightenment. He was interested in new discoveries, so the room for instance contains a telescope which may have been used to admire Halley’s comet. Another room even contains an early (now no longer working) steam engine. Gainsborough’s beloved rural English landscape was already under threat of what would become the Industrial Revolution.
Slightly further on, one comes across copies of important contemporary works like books based on Cook’s voyages, Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” and Samuel Richardson’s “Pamela”. Gainsborough died before Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” was published, but he lived in an era in which sensibility was also important. It is sensibility rather than the sublime, which he captures in both his portraits and landscapes.
The last but one room contains several beautiful portraits like the one of Gainsborough’s son-in-law, Mr Fischer, and of Mary Duchess of Montagu. The last room of this delightful and wonderful exhibition shows the once split portrait of Gainsborough’s beloved daughters which is the exhibition’s calling card. His “dear girls” are united again, though slightly damaged.
The Rijksmuseum Twenthe was lent works by the Gainsborough House museum, the Royal Collection, the National Portrait Gallery, Fitzwilliam Museum, V&A and other museums. This ensures that though small and not showing Gainsborough’s most famous paintings, this exhibition manages to give an impression of what interested Gainsborough and influenced his art. It is also possible to trace the development of Gainsborough’s style and his increasingly easy, confident, light touch.
If this exhibition is not enough, there is an interesting one in the other wing of the museum as well. It shows exhibits from the museum’s collection and explains how this museum started. Members of one family of wealthy local industrialists bought art, especially medieval art, and created a collection which was later donated to the museum they helped build.
Not that interested in “Twenthe’s Golden Age” and the history of the Rijksmuseum Twenthe? The museum also has an exhibition on taste which focuses on collecting art in the 21st century. From the 9th of April, an audiovisual installation by Jaap Drupsteen will be shown as well.
“Gainsborough in his own Words”, Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede can be visited till 24th of July.