How do you feel when you look at the painting “Mr and Mrs Andrews” by Thomas Gainsborough? What can you think of the two subjects in the painting? What exactly is the artist trying to show? You’ll find answers to all of these questions in this article.
Mr and Mrs Andrews is a commissioned painting and it shows two subjects, Robert Andrews and his wife Frances Andrews, then Frances Mary Carter. The painting was commissioned by the Andrews family to celebrate the marriage of the two subjects and the combined power of the two very powerful (and rich) families.
The landscape that you see on the right side of the painting (as it gets more space and attention than the couple) is not just some stylistic choice of the artist. There was a specific reason why this double portrait was painted this way.
The People in the Painting
As mentioned before, the couple shown in this painting are newlyweds Robert and Frances Andrews. The Andrews (and Carters) were some of the most powerful and richest people in Britain.
Robert Andrews was the son of a very rich businessman who was into the lending business. They owned large farm estates, had membership in the parliament, and practically controlled most of England along with other rich families.
The woman’s parents owned a successful drapery business and had amassed quite a fortune. The marriage was more of a strategic move to combine the wealth of their family and prevent their drapery business from failing.
What’s with her Dress?
There are a few peculiarities in this painting that need to be addressed. We’ll get to the weird expressions on both of their faces as well, but first, let’s talk about the dress of the woman here. Why does it look so unnatural?
While she is sitting on a bench, the fabric is not collected in one place. It spreads out covering the entire bench almost as if someone deliberately adjusted the dress to make it look like wings.
The reason why her dress is set in that way is the family wanted to show off this brilliant blue dress which in itself was a show of wealth. The color blue was the rarest color in those days, and having a dress made of blue color was a privilege only the ultra-rich could afford. So why not show every inch of it?
Is it a Portrait or a Landscape Painting?
One of the most confusing things we found about this painting was the framing of the subjects. This painting does not fit any category; it’s painted like a conversation piece wherein the subjects are engaged in a conversation.
But here, the subjects are looking right at the painter with a faint smile. So that makes it a portrait right? A double portrait. Well, we can’t call it that either. The thing about portraits is that the subject(s) take up most of the canvas space. The subjects are at the center.
But here, they are put aside on the left. On the right side, you can see the vast farm with sheep in the background, a church steeple, a lake, and some meadows. The subjects in the painting and the scene are given equal amounts of importance. But why?
Since the subject of the painting is both the human and the nonhuman landscape, it becomes a hybrid. The reason for that is this painting is more of a show-off than something memorable.
If you really think about it, this is a triple painting – “Mr and Mrs Andrews, and their land”
The Story Behind “Mr and Mrs Andrews”
Finally, we come to the story behind this bizarre painting that explains what’s going on here. As already mentioned, these two people in the painting are getting married, and as dowry, the man is getting the entire plot of land that you can see in the painting.
So they asked the painter, Thomas Gainsborough to put them in the painting but at the same time show how much wealth they own. They asked him to include all the land, as much as he can, even if it means that the couples who are getting married are pushed aside!
This is an utter show of gaudy wealth where there is no taste or subtlety. It’s like those rich people who buy things just by looking at the price tag. It doesn’t matter if things look good or not, it has to be expensive.
The Missing Spot
If you were not blown away by the fantastic show of wealth and not lost in the magnificence of their grandeur, then you must have noticed that there is an empty spot in the painting.
The spot near the hands of the woman is empty. This was certainly not a miss from the artist, and no he didn’t run out of paint. Since this painting was commissioned, the family must have asked to leave the spot open.
There could be many reasons. Maybe they wanted some blank space to add the child who would come in the future. Or maybe they wanted to add something else that showed off their wealth but could not decide what.
Or perhaps there was something that the artist painted and the owners wanted it gone. So they did some editing themselves. We can see that she was holding something that resembles a horn. It could be a dead game, and maybe they did not like it later and wanted it gone.
But we feel that it’s more likely that there was something there and it was later removed either by the family or by the people who kept the painting. Remember that this painting was painted around 1750 but only came to the public light in 1927.
About the Painting and the Artist
“Mr and Mrs Andrews” was painted around 1750, when the artist was 22 or 23 years old. The medium of the painting is oil on canvas, and it is fairly large, measuring 27.5 inches by 47 inches (69.8 cm by 119.4 cm).
While the painting remained private for most of the time, it currently sits at the National Gallery in London.
The original painting “Mr. and Mrs. Andrews” by Thomas Gainsborough continues to influence contemporary art in various ways. Its depiction of a wealthy couple in their rural estate and the social commentary on the English class system still resonate with artists today. One artist who drew inspiration from the painting is Yinka Shonibare, whose work “Mr. and Mrs. Andrews Without Their Heads” (1998) references the Gainsborough piece.
Shonibare’s figures wear clothing made from Dutch wax fabric, a comment on the relationship between emerging status and Britain’s colonial history. The headlessness alludes to the French Revolution and beheading of aristocracy, exploring race as a construct and challenging the notion of authenticity.
Shonibare’s use of these fabrics also addresses the complexities of identity, ethnicity, migration, and globalization. Through such reinterpretations, the influence of “Mr. and Mrs. Andrews” extends into contemporary art, fostering conversations about history, culture, and societal structures.
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