Thomas Gainsborough, 'The Cottage Girl', 1785.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)

The Cottage Girl, 1785

Oil on canvas, 174 x 124.5 cm
Presented, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, 1987 (Beit Collection)

The ragged child standing forlornly by a stream with a broken pitcher is one of Gainsborough’s most celebrated 'fancy pictures'. His landscapes, even for portrait backdrops, had long been idealised rural idylls conjured from the imagination and, during the 1780s, he painted a group of country subjects with touching sentiment.
These were the artist's own genuine response to the activities and predicaments of children in a natural setting, and they struck a deep chord at the time. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Gainsborough makes no moral point in these pictures. A fashion for the picturesque, the poetry of Wordsworth and scenes of beggars by Murillo were all contributory factors.

A sense of Arcadia is accentuated by the indefinite location. The model here is actually thought to be a boy, Jack Hill, encountered by the artist while walking near Richmond Hill, although from the earliest references the subject is referred to as a girl.

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