National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan Thomas Gainsborough (artist)
British, 1727 - 1788
Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1785-1787
oil on canvas
overall: 219.7 x 153.7 cm (86 1/2 x 60 1/2 in.) framed: 251.5 x 185.4 x 14 cm (99 x 73 x 5 1/2 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
1937.1.92
On View
From the Tour: British and American Grand Manner Portraits of the 1700s
Object 4 of 12

Depicted in her early thirties, this celebrated soprano had been a lifelong friend of Gainsborough. Decades before, the painter had taken music lessons from her father, a concertmaster at Bath, the resort city where Gainsborough had emerged as Britain’s foremost portraitist.

In 1773 Elizabeth Linley had eloped with the liberal politician and eminent playwright, Richard Brinsley Sheridan. The Rivals and The School for Scandal, Sheridan’s witty comedies, satirize the glamorous world of British society to which sitter and artist belonged. Mrs. Sheridan spent much of her time in the country, imploring her husband, “Take me out of the whirl of the world, place me in the quiet and simple scenes of life I was born for.” Her friend Gainsborough did precisely that by depicting her seated upon a rocky knoll on a windswept hillside almost as if she were a muse of nature. A newspaper reviewer, seeing this work in progress in Gainsborough’s studio in 1786, wrote that the artist intended to add the lambs now visible in the distance so that the picture might “assume an air more pastoral.”

Mrs. Sheridan’s tousled hair, billowing veil, and sheer overskirt merge imperceptibly with the restless foliage and scudding clouds. In this tour de force of sketchy brushstrokes, Gainsborough’s careful detailing of the face attracts attention to her striking features.

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