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Work Conversation in a Park

Department of Paintings: English painting

Conversation in a Park

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Paintings
English painting

Author(s):
Odin Alice

This picture, an early work by Gainsborough, shows the impact of French art, a dominant influence in England at this time. The scene falls into the category of the conversation piece, a genre characteristic of English art in the eighteenth century and particularly popular in its first half.

A seduction scene exhibiting various influences

The iconography of this picture is fairly simply. A young man, sitting on a bench next to a young woman, holds a book in his hand. The man is a young aristocrat (as can be deduced from his sword) and is clearly in the midst of courting his companion. The setting is typical for a Gainsborough painting, with a bench and a wooded background.
Gainsborough often painted couples. However, these young people seem somewhat stiff, more like puppets than actual people, and the whole picture brings together the most conventional aspects of seduction scenes in painting. He seems visibly agitated, with his legs crossed and his right hand stretched out towards his companion. The young woman in her pastel-pink dress, on the other hand, who seems scarcely to respond to the young man, appears more composed, her face turned towards the painter.
This painting is indicative of the influence of French art on English aesthetics in the eighteenth century. Works by Watteau, Philip Mercier, and Nicolas Lancret quickly became known in England, especially as they were reproduced in engravings.
Gainsborough's talent for landscape painting is apparent here in the romantic, wooded background that frames the scene. Gainsborough's technique consisted of applying colors in one simple layer; he also mixed his paints with more oil than was usual, thereby increasing the luminosity of the canvas.

A typical conversation piece

The "conversation piece" began life in the 1720s. The genre adapted the French Rococo conventions for portraiture, but was mainly a response to the renewal of English artistic and cultural life in the eighteenth century. It rapidly became very popular. The genre allows an informal portrait to be made of a group of people, with figures usually presented to the viewer in a more spontaneous manner instead of being depicted in traditional poses.

Gainsborough: a countryman in London

Gainsborough made a name for himself very quickly in London, where, at the age of twenty-one, he was invited to exhibit alongside the most famous names of the time. He was a student of Hayman and Gravelot, a French draughtsman who had settled in London, and he opened his first studio in 1745. After moving to Suffolk, Gainsborough began to concentrate on landscape painting. The genre took up much of his time in the studio and outdoors, although he continued to paint portraits. In 1777 he painted his first portraits of the royal family, and in 1783 he was one of the founding members of the Royal Academy.

Technical description

  • Thomas GAINSBOROUGH (Sudbury, Suffolk, 1727-London, 1788)

    Conversation in a Park

    1745

  • Oil on canvas

    H. 73 cm; L. 68 cm

  • Gift of Pierre Bordeaux-Groult, 1952

    Portrait présumé de l'artiste et de sa femme Margaret

    R.F. 1952-16

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Goya
    Room 32

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