Some couples seem made for each other, like Mr and Mrs Andrews in their 1749 wedding portrait. In this Thomas Gainsborough masterpiece we find these newlyweds proudly perched before their grand estate. Robert Andrews and his wife Frances Mary look so well-matched they could be siblings. Their setting is as suitable to them as they are to each other. It’s both rich and natural just like the couple. Robert and Frances Mary Andrews wear fine clothes with casual ease – unbuttoned and comfortable. Even with her ridiculous skirt, Mary seems nestled in the grandiose silk of it like a satisfied mother hen.
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The Perfect Couple
Robert holds himself in the nonchalant manner of legacy aristocracy. I love his askew hat. During the 1700s these tricorn hats were called “cocked hats”. Robert’s hat echoes the triangular stance of his darkly clad thighs and shoes. Triangles are a symbol of stability, which points to Robert’s status and money. He can afford to cock his hat to the side, with such secure footing in the world. We also see a similar connection in the silk of his shirt with Mary’s hat, bodice, and shoes.
The couple hold their arms gently bent. They both cross their legs at the ankles. This is a perfect match. Even their eyes glance to our left in the same way. Their small dog gazes up at them from the left with adoration as well. This side of the painting works as a frame for the duo along with the tremendous oak at their backs. Other marriage portraits of the day highlighted constructed settings, like a castle, and often featured an arranged mismatched marriage. The parallel postures and position of this duo show how they belong in this natural world which became a theme of the time.
This particular spot shows where the park on their property meets the farmland and fields with crops and grazing animals. Mr and Mrs Andrews crown this estate with pride as if to sweep an arm across the landscape and establish their prominent position.
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The Landscape Setting
The landscape dominates the canvas even though Mr and Mrs Andrews are the obvious owners of all they survey. There’s a contrast between their powerful positioning and the way they’re offset to the corner. This points to how significant land ownership was in the 18th century. The Andrews wanted to show off their land. But it was also a time when the bucolic escape of nature called to people and thus landscapes were popular subject matter for artists. Gainsborough devotes most of the canvas to the land, although the couple are a major focal point. That’s why this masterpiece works as both a portrait and landscape.
If you look deeper into the canvas you’ll find two churches, sheep, and plentiful crops. In fact, the couple married at the church we see tucked between trees at the heart of the portrait. This painting gives us a whole world with these two at the helm. They play a role in every part of it. The right side of the canvas encompasses the land that Frances Mary brought into the marriage while the left includes the small plot Robert contributed. In the middle we see the church where the couple married. This setting gives us a glimpse into the marriage just as the couple themselves do.
The Fresh Charm of Mr and Mrs Andrews
This masterpiece has become one of the most beloved British paintings. How? It’s the couple’s undeniable charm. Many portraits include frozen smiles or studied poses, especially in the 1700s. But Mr and Mrs Andrews have genuine facial expressions. They’re even a bit cheeky. I especially love the way Frances Mary gives Robert the side-eye. It’s an engaging reminder that couples need a bit of sass to keep relationships fresh and fun. These two seem like they know how to have a good time. The voluminous stiffness of her dress engulfs Frances Mary’s bench. But we can tell from her face that Frances can loosen up and may even be a bit of a firecracker.
Mr and Mrs Andrews – FAQs
Why is Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough an important painting?
When Gainsborough painted this classic artwork it was an experiment. He loved to paint landscapes but portraits were the order of the day. So, this painting was his way of combining the two genres. Gainsborough considered it a failed attempt. He left the painting unfinished and handed it off to the Andrews family. That was in the mid 1700s. Then in the 20th century the painting resurfaced and became an acclaimed icon of its time.
Mr and Mrs Andrews made its exhibit premiere in 1927 and then the National Gallery in London bought it in 1960. The piece is now considered one of their most famous and popular paintings. It’s beloved for the fresh and charming way the subject matter presents the typical social practices of the time it epitomizes.
How is Mr and Mrs Andrews unfinished?
If you look closely at Mrs Andrews’ silk lap, there’s a mysterious beige blob. Art historians love to speculate about what Gainsborough planned for this spot and why he abandoned it. Gossip points to drama between the painter and the Andrews. After all, he left it unfinished. But it’s also possible that they wanted to hold this spot for a baby that would come later and then got too busy for the follow through on that plan. Many viewers of this beloved painting don’t even notice the mystery blob. They’re too caught up in the charm and wonder of this masterpiece.
Enjoyed this analysis of Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough?
Check out these other LadyKflo essays on British painters.
Alexander, Julia Marciari in: Warner, Malcolm and Alexander, Julia Marciari, This Other Eden, British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale, Yale Center for British Art/Art Exhibitions Australia, 1998
Graham-Dixon, Andrew A History of British Art, 1999, University of California Press
Langmuir, Erica, The National Gallery companion guide, 1997 revised edition, National Gallery, London
Jones, Jonathan, “Thomas Gainsborough: A Modern Genius”, The Guardian, 19 October 2002
Egerton, Judy, National Gallery Catalogues (new series): The British School, 1998