Lot 41
  • 41

Thomas Gainsborough R.A. 1727 - 1788

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Thomas Gainsborough R.A.
  • Landscape with Cattle, a young man courting a milkmaid
  • oil on canvas, held in a rare English Neoclassical Adam period oil gilded frame, with moulded olive branch, acanthus and lotus leaf ornamentation


The artist's sale, Schomberg House, March-May 1789, lot 95 (bt. by Mrs Robert Child);
By descent to her grand-daughter Sarah Sophia, Countess of Jersey;
thence by family descent


London, Schomberg House, 1789, no. 95;
London, Royal Academy, 1895, no. 128;
London, Fine Art Palace, Franco-British Exhibition, 1908, no. 8, pl. 53;
Rome, Royal Commission International Fine Arts Exhibition, 1911, no. 212;
London, Sassoon Gallery, 1936, no. 78;
London, Arts Council, Old Masters from Jersey Collections, 1952, no. 13;
Jersey, La Societé Jervaise, Centenary Art Exhibition, 1983, no. 3


G.W. Fulcher, Life of Thomas Gainsborough RA, 1856, p. 195;
W. Thornbury, The Life of JMW Turner RA, 1862, vol. II., p. 62;
Sir W. Armstrong, Gainsborough and his Place in English Art, 1898, p. 206;
Sir W. Armstrong, Gainsborough and his Place in English Art, 1904, p. 287;
M. Woodall, Gainsborough's Landscape Drawings, 1939, pp. 48, 50, 55, 71, 121, pl. 46;
Anon. [Tancred Borenius], 'Gainsborough's Collection of Pictures,' Burlington Magazine, May 1944, p. 110;
E. Waterhouse, 'The Sale at Schomberg House, 1789,' Burlington Magazine, March 1945, p.77;
E. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, 1958, p. 116, no. 931, pl. 124;
J. Hayes, The Landscape Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, 1982, vol.1, pp. 116, 120, 237 and vol. II, p. 455, no. 109

Catalogue Note

This large idyllic pastoral landscape with the charming detail of young lovers as its subject is a rare delight at auction. This painting is arguably the last of Gainsborough's large scale 'landscape of extraordinary Merit,'[i] left in private hands.[ii] Possibly a painting with significant personal meaning, this painting remained with Gainsborough until his death in 1789. Such impeccable provenance continued as it has remained in the family collection of Mrs Robert Child (Fig. 1) until now, first at Osterley Park and from 1915 at Middleton Park.

Gainsborough depicts a moment on a warm late summer's afternoon where a path leads us invitingly into the landscape. A gentle breeze blows over the trees and the small pool in this peaceful corner, whilst birds glide alongside the labourers who are returning home. In the near foreground, a milkmaid has paused and is depicted reclining seductively on a grassy bank, leaning on her pail and with a small bowl in her left hand. Her three cows are loyally gathered around her. A young labourer with his dog has also paused on this particular route. Lying on the edge of the path, at a close but respectable distance from the milk maid, he leans upon his elbows nonchalantly gazing directly at her. Perhaps he is attempting to woo her, since his presence has given her a charming blush of rose colour to her cheeks.

Gainsborough paints this peaceful and innocent courtship with the confident application of broad brush strokes. As if luxuriating in the moment himself, he uses delicate unhurried sweeps of the brush with a cohesive and subtle palette of earth tones. The dark russet tones of the near foreground ensure our concentration is drawn there, whilst the remaining figures and distance beyond are painted in paler and comparatively translucent tones.

This landscape was painted in the early 1770's when Gainsborough was increasingly in demand as an established and fashionable portrait painter based in the spa town of Bath. However, Gainsborough's fiscal security had come at the cost of his increasing sense of creative restriction and confinement. To literally escape from this he was increasingly drawn to explore the countryside surrounding Bath. When a young boy Gainsborough had played truant from school, escaping into Conard wood in Suffolk to draw and sketch the landscape. As a middle aged man he clearly still relied on this favoured escapism. Furthermore, far from the formal, wealthy and glamorous men and women of contemporary metropolitan society the countryside was populated by humble labourers. Such figures Gainsborough was commissioned to portray recalled the paintings of earlier Old Master landscape artists of whom Gainsborough was passionately fond such as Berchem and Cuyp.[iii] For both these Old Master artists and Gainsborough it was the generic essence of landscape, the combination of figures, woodland, animals and pasture stretching far beyond that so appealed. 

Gainsborough made sketches during his countryside excursions. The sketch for this painting is now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Fig.2).[iv] A comparison between this highly finished landscape painting and the preliminary sketch clearly demonstrates how little the initial composition changed. Gainsborough would complete his preliminary sketches on his return home from country excursions, and often by candlelight, and we can see how the dramatic lighting and tonal contrasts of the initial black and white chalk drawing were retained in this painting. 

The contemporary admiration of Gainsborough's landscape paintings encouraged Joshua Reynolds to extol to his students at the Royal Academy that, 'by candle-light, not only objects appear more beautiful, but from their being in a greater breadth of light and shadow, as well as having a greater breadth of uniformity of colour, nature appears in a higher style.'[v] Paintings such as this landscape were deliberately conceived to be enjoyed by candle-light when visitors were entertained. Such visitors would have certainly been impressed by this magnificent landscape which was purchased to hang alongside paintings by Rubens, Poussin and van Dyck in the Gallery at Osterley Park (Fig. 3).

Osterley Park, Middlessex, was the seat of Robert Child (1739-1782) and his wife.[vi] The Child family descended from Sir Francis Child the Elder (1642-1713) who had from his activities as a banker and goldsmith amassed a large fortune and purchased Osterley Park. Robert Child M.P. inherited Osterley and Child's Bank when his elder brother the third Francis Child (1735-1763) unexpectedly died. Robert had weak health and therefore spent little time in politics or in London at the bank. However, he lavished a great deal of time, money and sincere affection on Osterley. He oversaw it's renovation by Robert Adam with decorations by Zucchi as well as furnishing it with Adam furniture and with paintings as mentioned above. Horace Walpole called Osterley their 'palace sans coronet' as no expense was spared. His wife, considered a lady of considerable taste, lived on at Osterley for ten years after Robert's death.

A male heir may have been keenly hoped for but the Child's only heir was their daughter, Sarah Anne, who secretly married John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland at Gretna Green in 1782.  Robert Child was so outraged he subsequently disinherited his daughter and left his estate in trust to his eldest grand child, Lady Sarah Sophia Fane (1785-1867). Lady Sarah married George Child-Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey and 8th Viscount Grandison (1773-1859) of Middleton Park (he assumed the Child name in 1819). 

[i] Ozias Humphry, Biographical Memoir, MS, 1802, Royal Academy Library, vol. 1. As quoted in J. Hayes, lit.op.cit., 1982, vol. I, p. 96, ft., 38.
[ii] For example; Open Landscape with Mounted Peasants going to Market, oil on canvas, 48 by 58in., 121.9 by 147.3 cm., c. 1773 (Private Collection) and Extensive Wood Landscape with Peasants, Cows, Shepherd and Sheep, oil on canvas, 47 ½ by 57 ¼ in., 120 by 145.4, c. 1772-4, Yale Centre for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.[iii]'He was passionately fond as his daughter, Margaret, tell us, of Berchem and Cuyp.' Farington's Diary, 29 January 1799, Kenneth Garlick and Angus Macintyre, ed., The Farington Diary, vol iv, 1979, p. 1149, as quoted in J. Hayes, lit.op.cit.,1982, p. 93, ft 12. Hayes explains that at this time Gainsborough now had the opportunity denied him in earlier in Suffolk of seeing outstanding collections of such Old Masters at Wilton and Stourhead amongst others.
[iv] A smaller variant copy or study was sold in the Skofield Sale, Parke Bernet, New York, 1 Feb 1940, lot 78, entitled The Coming Storm, oil on canvas, 25 by 30 in. (see W. Armstrong, lit op cit, 1898, p. 204 and J. Hayes, lit op cit, 1982, vol. 1I, pp. 116,120,237 and 455).
[v] Sir Joshua Reynolds, Discourses on Art, ed Robert R Wark, 1959,p. 250.
[vi] Mrs Robert Child was Sarah daughter of Gilbert Jodrell of Ankerwycke, Buckinghamshire.