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But he tired of the town–he wanted freedom, fresh air, the woods and fields. Hogarth and Wilson were there in London, but the Academy students never heard of them. And if Gainsborough ever listened to Richardson’s famous prophecy which inspired Hogarth and Reynolds, to the effect that England would soon produce a great school of art, we do not know it.

The young man grew homesick; he was doing nothing in London–no career was open to him–he returned to Sudbury after an absence of nearly two years. He thought it was defeat, but his family welcomed him as a conquering hero. He was eighteen and looked twenty–tall, strong, fair-haired, gentle in manner, gracious in speech.

Two of his sisters had married clergymen, and were happily situated in neighboring towns; his brother Humphrey was “occupying the pulpit,” and causing certain local High Churchmen to have dreams of things tumbling about their ears.

The sisters and mother wanted Tom to be a preacher, too–he was so straight and handsome and fine, and his eyes were so tender and blue!

But he preferred to paint. He painted in the woods and fields, by streams and old mills, and got on good terms with all the flocks of sheep and cattle in the neighborhood.

The art of landscape-painting developed from an accident. The early Italian painters used landscape only as a background for figures. All they pictured were men, women and children, and to bring these out rightly they introduced scenery. Imagine a theater with scenes set and no person on the stage, and you get the idea of landscape up to the time of Gainsborough. Landscape! it was nothing–a blank.

Wilson first painted landscapes as backgrounds for other men to draw portraits upon. A marine scene was made merely that a Commodore might stand in cocked hat, a spyglass under his arm, in the foreground, while the sun peeps over the horizon begging permission to come up. Gradually these incomplete pictures were seen hanging in shop-windows, but for them there was no market. They were merely curios.

Gainsborough drew pictures of the landscape because he loved it. He seems to be the first English artist who loved the country for its own sake. Old bridges, winding roadways, gnarled oaks, cattle grazing, and all the manifold beauties of quiet country life fascinated him. He educated the collector, and educated the people into a closer observation and study of Nature. Gainsborough stood at the crossways of progress and pointed the way.

With Hogarth’s idea that a picture should teach a lesson and have a moral, he had no sympathy. And with Reynolds, who thought there was nothing worth picturing but the human face, he took issue. Beauty to him was its own excuse for being. However, in all of Gainsborough’s landscapes you find the human interest somewhere–man has not been entirely left out. But from being the one important thing, he sinks simply into a part of the view that lies before you. Turner’s maxim, “You can not leave man out,” he annexed from Gainsborough. And Corot’s landscapes, where the dim, shadowy lovers sit on the bankside under the great oaks–the most lovely pictures ever painted by the hand of man–reveal the extreme evolution from a time when the lovers occupied the center of the stage, and the landscape was only an accessory.

And it is further interesting to note that the originator of English landscape-painting was also a great portrait-painter, and yet he dared paint portraits with absolutely no scenery back of them–a thing which up to that time was done only by a man who hadn’t the ability to paint landscape. Thus do we prove Rabelais’ proposition, “The man who has a well-filled strongbox can surely afford to go ragged.”

Thomas Gainsborough, aged nineteen, was one day intently sketching in a wood near Sudbury, when the branches suddenly parted and out into a little open space stepped Margaret Burr. This young woman had taken up her abode in Sudbury during the time the young man was in London, and he had never met her, although he had probably heard her praises sounded. Everybody around there had heard of her. She was the handsomest woman in all Suffolk–and knew it. She lived with her “uncle,” and the gossips, who looked after these little things, divided as to whether she was the daughter of one of the exiled Stuarts, or the natural child of the Duke of Bedford. Anyway, she was a true princess, in face, form and bearing, and had an income of her own of two hundred pounds a year. Her pride was a thing so potent that the rustic swains were chilled at the sight of her, and the numerous suitors sighed and shot their lovesick glances from a safe distance.