The Cottage Door (ca. 1780), one of the treasures of The Huntington’s collections, is among Thomas Gainsborough’s most famous paintings. The idealized scene of rustic country life was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1780, but both the subject and the composition continued to haunt the artist, and he repeated the design twice during the course of the decade. All three paintings are shown together for the first time in this special display, providing a unique opportunity to compare the subtle differences among them. Both of the later versions, on loan from private collections, are less finished than The Huntington’s canvas, and there are variations in tone and detail that give each a particular mood and a different emphasis.
A new book by Gainsborough specialist Hugh Belsey, Gainsborough’s Cottage Doors: An Insight into the Artist’s Last Decade, complements the installation. Inspired by the recent attribution of the third version, it examines how Gainsborough freed himself from the constraints of the Royal Academy and was able to make radical changes to his work during the last years of his life. Available in The Huntington’s Bookstore & More.