- "John Plampin" by Thomas Gainsborough [Selected Works]
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John Plampin

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1753-54: National Gallery, London

Gainsborough's early experiments combining landscape and portraiture led to delightful paintings of Suffolk and its gentry. His portrait of John Plampin is especially interesting because he copied his basic idea for the figure's pose almost exactly from the French rococo painter Antoine Watteau who had depicted an elegantly dressed aristocrat reclining in a leafy bower and gesturing toward four naked nymphs and a satyr. Gainsborough was unusually inventive and seldom borrowed from other painters, even old masters, though the practice was common among his fellows. But here he duplicated the position of the legs, the left hand, the angle of the head and even the attitude of the dog. In his variation, however, a panorama of English parkland replaces the scene of pastoral revelry and Squire Plampin tucks his right hand, rather self-consciously, into his waistcoat. Gainsborough may have been inspired to make use of the Watteau work because Plampin looked very much like the man in the French picture : the chance to play a little art-historical joke may have proved irresistible to the young painter.
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