Research: Gainsborough on Glass

On my very first visit to the V&A Museum I wandered the rooms wide-eyed and amazed: treasures of marble, wood, glass, jewel, cloth, metal and more abounded, from all ages and all places around the globe. I had more than a bit of a trouble deciding where to look for fear I'd miss something while my back was turned. However I had done some research on-line and in advance so I kept walking, ticking off rooms to ensure I didn't miss any of the leads I'd found on glass painting. As unromantic as it sounds, this organised persistence paid off though as it meant I didn't walk past the Gainsboroughs I had specifically come to see. 

Now Thomas Gainsborough is not an artist I would have linked with reverse glass painting - yet this is precisely what he did in the latter half of the 18th century when he created nearly a dozen images on glass using a limited range of colours in various opacities of oil paint, which he then displayed back-lit by candles in a custom built 'show box' of his own design. There are theories that he painted these landscapes on glass as light and compositional studies for much larger and more traditional canvas paintings and that he may have also used these studies to encourage further commissions. Whatever his reasons, it is sure that he carted the show box around London, and possibly further afield, showing off his work to friends and potential patrons alike in what must be one of the earliest recorded slide shows ever.

For more information on the box you can check out the V&A's on-line entry on Gainsborough's showbox  or pay a visit to Room 88 the next time you're passing through the Museum.

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