Elizabeth Linley's beauty and exceptional soprano voice brought her professional success in concerts and festivals in Bath and London. After marrying Sheridan in 1773 she left her career to support and participate in her husband's activities as politician, playwright, and orator. Sheridan's work was immensely popular, and his witty plays, A School for Scandal and The Rivals, are a beloved part of today's theatrical repertoire.
Mrs. Sheridan is shown here at the age of thirty-one, a mature and elegant woman. Merged into the landscape, her gracious form bends to the curve of the trees behind her. Light plays as quickly and freely across her dress as it does across the clouds and the sky. The distinct textures of rocks, foliage, silk, and hair are unified by the strong, animated rhythms of Gainsborough's brush.
The freely painted, impressionistic style of Mrs. Sheridan's costume and the windblown landscape reflect the strong romantic component in Gainsborough's artistic temperament. However, his primary focus remains on his sitter's face and on her personality. Her chin and mouth are firm, definite, and sculptural, and her heavily drawn eyebrows give her a steady, composed, and dignified expression. There is a hint of romantic melancholy in her eyes, with their slightly indirect gaze.
Marks and Labels
The Hon. Mrs. Edward Bouverie [1750-1825, later Lady Robert Spencer], a friend of the sitter, Delapré Abbey, Northampton; by descent to her grandson, General Everard Bouverie [1789-1871]; (his estate sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 2 March 1872, no. 110); purchased by Alfred de Rothschild [1842-1918] for his father, Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild [1808-1879], Gunnersbury, Middlesex; by inheritance to his son, Nathaniel, 1st lord Rothschild [1840-1915]; by inheritance to his widow, Emma, Lady Rothschild; by inheritance to her nephew, Nathaniel Mayer Victor, called Victor, 3rd baron and later 3rd lord Rothschild [1910-1990]; sold 1936 to (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); purchased 26 April 1937 by The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.
- Gainsborough's studio, Schomberg House, London, 1786.
- Works of the Old Masters, associated with Works of Deceased Masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1873, no. 35.
- Works by the Old Masters, and by Deceased Masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1886, no. 103.
- Gainsborough, Sir Philip Sassoon's, 45 Park Lane, London, 1936, no. 8 (illustrated souvenir, repro. 75).
- Thomas Gainsborough, Tate Gallery, London, 1980-1981, no. 129, repro., color repro. 125.
- Gainsborough, Grand Palais, Paris, 1981, no. 57, repro., color repro. 77.
- A Nest of Nightingales: Thomas Gainsborough, The Linley Sisters, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 1988, no. 3, repro., color repro. 44.
- Thomas Gainsborough, 1727-1788, Tate Britain, London; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2002-2003, no. 166, repro.
- Citizens and Kings: Portraits in the Age of Revolution, 1760-1830, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2007, no. 135, repro. (shown only in London).
- Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman, Cincinnati Art Museum; San Diego Museum of Art, 2010-2011, pl. 10 (shown only in Cincinnati).
- Presiding Genius: A Masterpiece a Month for a Very Special Year, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 2011, no catalogue.
- Morning Herald, 30 March 1785.
- Public Advertiser, 13 April 1785.
- Morning Herald, 30 December 1786.
- Fulcher, George Williams. Life of Thomas Gainsborough, R.A.. 2d rev. ed. London, 1856: 226.
- Graves, Henry, & Company. Engravings from the Works of Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. London [c. 1880]: no. 100 (mezzotint by James Scott, published 1878).
- Armstrong, Sir Walter. Gainsborough & His Place in English Art. London, 1898: 202, pl. 31; popular ed., London, 1904: 279, repro. opp. 164.
- Whitley, William T. Thomas Gainsborough. London, 1915: 201-202, 238-239, 257, 260, 265, repro. opp. 265.
- Whitley, William T. Artists and Their Friends in England 1700-1800. 2 vols. London, 1928: 2: 181.
- Duveen Brothers. Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941: nos. 285-286, repros.
- Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 70-71, no. 92.
- Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 241, repro. 15.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Masterpieces of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1944: 130, color repro.
- Favorite Paintings from the National Gallery of Art Washington, D.C.. New York, 1946: 55-57, color repro.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 113, repro.
- Waterhouse, Sir Ellis. Gainsborough. London, 1958: no. 613, pl. 256.
- Cooke, Hereward Lester. British Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1960 (Booklet Number Eight in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 16, color repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 218, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 54.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:354, color repro.
- The Women I Love: These Lovely Immigrants Are Part of Our National Treasure.” This Week Magazine (January 9, 1966): 10, color repro.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 47, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 142, repro.
- Paulson, Ronald. Emblem and Expression. London, 1975: 218, 228, pl. 151.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: no. 494, color repro.
- Hayes, John. The Landscape Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough. 2 vols. London and New York, 1982: 1:167, pl. 202.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 354, no. 492, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 163, repro.
- Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 103-106, color repro. 105.
- National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 152, repro.
- Miles, Ellen G., ed. The Portrait in Eighteenth-Century America. Newark, 1993: fig. 7.
- Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. New York, 1995: 942, fig. 26-19.
- Asfour, Amal and Paul Williamson. Gainsborough's Wit, Indiana, 1997, no. 6, repro.
- Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. 2 vols. Revised ed. New York, 1999: 934, fig. 26-2.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 274-275, no. 221, color repro.
- Secrest, Meryle. "Looking at Art: 18th Century Fox." Art News 111, no. 7 (Summer 2012): 76-77, color repro.
- Christiansen, Carol, and Eleonora Luciano. "The evolution of Gainsborough's portrait of Elizabeth Sheridan." The Burlington Magazine 155, no. 1321 (April 2013): 238-242, figs. 24, 25, 30-32.
The medium-coarse canvas is plain woven; it has been lined. The ground, the color of which is difficult to determine, is moderately thick and masks the weave of the canvas. There is a light pink imprimatura evident beneath the sky and the sitter, which is used as a middle tone. The painting is executed in liquid paint, blended wet into wet, applied in many layers in order to create a rich and sumptuous effect, with thin washes in free-flowing brushstrokes for the details. The painting is in excellent condition. The natural resin varnish has discolored yellow slightly.