Mr and Mrs Andrews
|Type||oil on canvas|
|Dimensions||69.08 cm × 119.04 cm (27.20 in × 46.87 in)|
|Location||National Gallery, London|
Mr and Mrs Andrews (1750) is an oil on canvas portrait by Thomas Gainsborough in the National Gallery, London. Today it is one of his most famous works. It was purchased in 1960 with contributions from the Pilgrim Trust, The Art Fund, Associated Television Ltd, and Mr and Mrs W. W. Spooner.
Thomas Gainsborough was twenty-one when he painted Mr and Mrs Andrews in 1750. He himself had married pregnant Margaret Burr and returned to Sudbury, his home town, after an apprenticeship in London with the French artist Hubert-François Gravelot, from whom he learnt the French rococo style. There, he also picked up a love of landscapes in the Dutch style. However, landscape painting was far less prestigious and poorly paid compared to portraits and Gainsborough was forced (since the family business, a clothiers' in Sudbury, had been bankrupted in 1733) to "face paint" as he put it. Mr and Mrs Andrews contains the widest landscape of Gainsborough's portraits, and he would not return to such compositions. Future paintings would be set against neutral or typical rococo settings. It has been speculated that Gainsborough wished to show off his landscape ability to potential clients, to satisfy his personal preference, or his sitters' wishes.
Robert Andrews, the male sitter, was a member of the landed gentry, and this is very much apparent in Gainsborough's work. Although it is probable the family money came from being a landlord, Robert's father also lent substantial amounts of money, particularly to other gentry, at significant interest rates. This included the sum of £30,000 to Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1743, for which he gained the title "remembrancer". He lived in Grosvenor Square (in Mayfair, London) and also owned ships and engaged in trade with the colonies of the British Empire. Robert himself was born in 1726, and went to Oxford University. His father purchased him an estate, and secured a bride, in a successful attempt to integrate Robert into the upper classes. In 1763, after his father's death, he would take over the family business. He had eight children.
The woman sitting beside him is Frances Mary Carter, who was betrothed to Andrews at 15 or 16 years old. They were married in Sudbury, Suffolk, on 10 November 1748: he was 22, she 16. Like many marriages of the time, there was more than an element of a business deal about the whole endeavour; the Aubries estate, where the painting was created, bordered her father's Ballingdon Estate and was probably part of her dowry. Her family had made their money in the drapery business, and by buying the estate avoided the collapse of the textile industry. By the time the work was commissioned, it was owned by Andrews.
The oak tree in front of which the couple stand has several connotations beyond the choice of location: stability and continuity, and a sense of successive generations taking over the family business. The landed gentry had even been compared to the oak, holding Britain together. The neat parallel rows of corn produced by Jethro Tull's revolutionary and controversial seed drill show that this is a thoroughly modern and efficient farm. Andrew's estate, Auberies, is sited in Bulmer Tye, North Essex, just a few miles across the county border from Gainsborough's native county of Suffolk. The small tower in the left background of the piece is St. Peters Church in Sudbury. The church in the middle of the piece is that of All Saints, Little Cornard, very close to Gainsborough's hometown of Sudbury. The oak tree is still extant, though considerably larger.
Mr and Mrs Andrews has been used in human geography and culture analysis. In both cases, it is often the reflection of social status which is analysed. The medium itself, oil-on-canvas, is seen as a symbol of high social class, prestigious, and out of the range of the majority. The choice to commission Gainsborough to produce the work has been seen as explicitly intended to secure and reproduce the Andrews' social position through the artwork itself. It is possible to examine the painting in the context of the relationship of the Andrews to their land, from which they derived their income, and their political power, since suffrage was linked to land ownership. Mr and Mrs Andrews is often put into this legal context. There is a distinct lack of land-workers in the painting, and it is often commented that some of the happiness of the Andrews that is derived from the work is from seeing themselves as landowners. Marxist art critic John Berger once commented that Mr and Mrs Andrews, were "not a couple in nature as Rousseau imagined nature. They are landowners and their proprietary attitude towards what surrounds them is visible in their stance and expressions." (He is referring to the beliefs of Jean Jacques Rousseau.)
Far from stressing the links between the sitters and their setting, some critics believe that Mr and Mrs Andrews are set against the natural world in which they appear. For them, the choice of Mrs Andrews' clothing is at odds with the natural scene, and inappropriate. Mr Andrews is harsh, and complete with shotgun, brutal. Similarly, Gainsborough's positioning of the couple is an indication that they are not at home with the scene. They see Gainsborough's early work as satirical. Gainsborough's dislike of the upper classes was well known. For them, the large amount of canvas set aside for the landscape was a way for him to spend time painting what he liked.
- "Mr and Mrs Andrews: Key Facts". The National Gallery. Retrieved 8 January 2010.
- Hagen, Rose-Marie; Hagen, Rainer (2003). What great paintings say 1. Taschen. pp. 296–300. ISBN 978-3-8228-2100-8. Retrieved 8 January 2010.
- Hugh Belsey, Andrews, Robert (1725–1806), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2013 accessed 13 Sept 2013
- Barnard, Malcolm (1998). Art, design, and visual culture: an introduction. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 183. ISBN 978-0-312-21691-7. Retrieved 9 January 2010.
- Longhurst, Brian; et al. (2008). Introducing Cultural Studies. 9781405858434: Pearson Education. pp. 114–117. Retrieved 10 January 2010.
- Jonathan Jones (19 October 2002). "Thomas Gainsborough: A Modern Genius". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 10 January 2010.