A Couple in a Landscape
This is one of Gainsborough’s early conversation pieces, which forms part of a succession of full-length double portraits of husband and wife, such as Mr and Mrs Andrews, National Gallery, London and Sarah and John Joshua Kirby, National Portrait Gallery, London. He executed these after returning to Suffolk from London in 1748, presumably after his father’s death.
The unidentified couple may be members of the land-owning gentry painted in their Suffolk estate. The wife holds a porte-crayon in one hand and a drawing in the other: Gainsborough has depicted her as an amateur artist, a popular pastime for women in this era.
There is equal emphasis upon the couple and the surrounding landscape. The decaying tree was a popular compositional device used in 17th-century Dutch landscape painting, especially the work of Jacob van Ruisdael and Jan Wijnants, whom Gainsborough greatly admired.
An x-ray shows that Gainsborough re-used this canvas; originally it depicted a half-length portrait of a woman wearing a rose corsage.