Wooded Landscape with Figures, Cottages, and Cow, c. 1785-1788
black chalk (or charcoal?) with grey and blue wash, touched with opaque white on laid paper ?, laid down on laid paper
18.8 x 24.5 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 2886)
As a compulsive draughtsman, with his heart in his beloved "landskips," Gainsborough produced one sketch after the other. Not topographical delineations of a given spot, these were landscapes of the mind, where certain simple elements - cottage, road, figures, pool, cattle or sheep, and above all, trees - were endlessly arranged and rearranged in search of the never-attained ideal. Throughout his career, his sketches became ever freer and more summary, reaching an extreme in such late examples as this, where washes are used impressionistically to suggest rather than define form. He drew in the evenings by candlelight from his famous model landscapes, which he set up with cork, coal, or broken stones for the foregrounds, broccoli or dried herbs for trees, pieces of looking-glass for water, and miniature modelled cows as the focal points.