Black chalk with extensive stump work with traces of white gouache
Support: Heavy wove paper
Sheet: 46.8 x 35.3 cm (18 7/16 x 13 7/8 in.)
John L. Severance Fund 1976.6
The sitter for this portrait, Sarah Siddons, was the subject of a competition between Thomas Gainsborough and his rival Sir Joshua Reynolds, who exhibited a portrait of the actress at the Royal Academy the year before this drawing was made.
Although Thomas Gainsborough produced about a thousand portraits in oil, the artist typically worked directly on the canvas rather than making preparatory drawings of his sitters. This study, so closely related to the artist’s finished painting of the famous actress Mrs. Sarah Siddons, is highly unusual. One scholar has hypothesized that because the portrait was not made on commission but conceived for an exhibition in his studio, Gainsborough may have had only a single sitting with the celebrated actress, and knew he would he would have to rely on the drawing as a basis for the finished work.
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