River Landscape with Cattle Watering and Ferry Boat, c. 1754-1756
oil on canvas
124.5 x 99.1 cm
Gift of Balmore Limited, Montreal, 1998
National Gallery of Canada (no. 39829)
Gainsborough had recently returned to his native Suffolk after an apprenticeship in London. This imaginary setting evokes the local landscape, and the incidental detail - the ferry, cattle, houses - typical of the country. Its commissioner would have seen in it a harmonious, idealized image of his own world. The work was painted to decorate a chimney piece, hence the tall vertical format. Gainsborough's landscapes drew upon both seventeenth-century Dutch examples and contemporary French painting, fashionable models familiar to the artist and many of his patrons. In painting the rich red earth of the foreground, he daringly exploited the possibilities of a limited colour range.