The Public and Private Lives of Mr. Gainsborough, RA

Art History

Day course

Joanna Cobb

26 October 2020


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This day course provides a study of the different periods in Gainsborough’s career from his early training in London, his studio in Ipswich, followed by 15 years in Bath and then from 1774 to his death in 1788 at the centre of the fashionable London art world.

Primary sources, both written and visual will be used extensively, to bring this to life. Core themes are the onset of the public art exhibition, in particular at the Royal Academy, the autonomy of the artist in terms of displaying their work, patronage, and the public and private spheres in which Gainsborough lived and worked. Making full use of the artist’s personal letters as well as plans of his homes, and a wide range of his paintings and drawings, we will follow Gainsborough’s career from Suffolk, Bath and finally to London.

On the way we will consider not only his public persona and problematic relationship with the infant Royal Academy, including his great rival Joshua Reynolds, but draw back the curtain to reveal his closely guarded private life with his wife, daughters and musical friends.

Tutor information

Joanna is an independent art historian, researcher, lecturer, and retired history teacher with over 20 years’ experience up to A level and Oxbridge entrance. She holds a B.Ed. degree and an MA in History of Art with Distinction from Birkbeck, University of London, which included modules on the Northern and Venetian Renaissance, and 18th century British art. Subsequent research towards a PhD has centred on the 18th century London art world. Her article, ‘From Parrots to Princes: Exhibitions of Contemporary Stained Glass in Late Eighteenth-century London’. appeared in the online journal Vidimus, Issue 53, July/August 2011. In keeping with her support for lifelong learning in its fullest sense, she present s her independent series of art history lectures across a range of venues in Somerset and has also taught U3A groups in Glastonbury and Wells, as well lectured sixth formers, parents and teachers at Wells Cathedral School. Future projects include short courses for several branches of the WEA, a special presentation for the Western Front Association to coincide with commemorations of the Armistice in 1918, additional lectures at Wells Cathedral School and a collaboration with Wells Film Centre. Her art historical interests include patronage, display, spectatorship, the changing status of art and artists, and the roles and achievement of women as artists. Central to her approach is an understanding of the context in which works of art were produced and experienced, in order to allow the ‘bigger picture’ surrounding them to emerge and in so doing enrich and enlarge the encounter.

Covid information

Dillington House wishes to reassure everyone that we are working closely with Somerset County Council to ensure every measure is being taken to make Dillington House a safe place for everyone.

All course participants will be sent further guidance prior to the course date.

Dillington House is following Government guidelines and adhering to new guidance including local or national lockdowns.

All places booked can be transferred or refunded in the event this course is cancelled. Individuals who are affected by local lockdowns will be able to transfer to an alternative course. All other terms and conditions apply.