Frances Browne, Mrs John Douglas (1746 - 1811)

Artist or maker:
Gainsborough, Thomas (b.1727, d.1788)
date exhibited
Place of production:
London, England, United Kingdom
oil on canvas
Type of object:
Accession number:


Gainsborough’s ravishing brushwork and subtle use of colour was recently re-revealed when this painting was cleaned. The range of whites is visible again, in the skin, the layered fabrics, the paper and the pearls.

Little is known about the sitter. She appears to have married twice: to John Douglas, when painted by Gainsborough, and later to Major Herbert Gwynne Browne. Gainsborough included the portrait in the first private exhibition at his house, Schomberg House in 1784, when it was described in the "Morning Herald": ‘This lady is represented reclining. An air of sensibility and solitude diffused over her countenance’.

The pose recalls the traditional representation of Melancholy, and helps to articulate the emotions of the sitter who has withdrawn to a secluded and overgrown corner of a garden to read a letter. Perhaps it is from her husband or from an absent friend.

This painting is a splendid example of a type of portrait that Gainsborough developed during the 1770s and 1780s in which he integrated the sitter into the landscape. The artist manipulated his pigments to suggest Mrs. Douglas’s naturalness and ease in her pastoral solitude. Gainsborough emphasised the relationship between the woman and her environment by painting the clouds behind her and the filmy drapery billowing across her lap with similar silvery mauves and fluid transparent brushstrokes.

Juliet Carey 2012

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
2377 x 1488
Physical details:
size of stretcher 2377 x 1488, size of canvas, 2360 x 1470, size of remaining original canvas circa 2355 x 1470
Signature & date:
not signed or dated


Owned by the sitter Frances Douglas (later Browne) (b.1746, d.1811); by descent to her daughter Georgina Browne Pierrepont (d.1872) and son-in-law Hon. Philip Pierrepont (d.1864); acquired by Colonel Campbell of Oxfordshire before 1884; acquired by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (b.1839, d.1898) from Colonel Campbell before 1884; inherited by his sister Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1957.
Exhibition history:
Schomberg House, 1784, London

British Institute Exhibition, 1849, London, no. 134, lent by Hon. Philip S. Pierrepont

Royal Academy Exhibition, 1884, London, no. 152, lent by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild

45 Park Lane, 1936, London, no. 18, lent by James A. de Rothschild
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957



William T. Whitley; Thomas Gainsborough; London; Smith, Elder; 1915; pp. 228, 231.
Ellis Waterhouse; Gainsborough; London; Edward Hulton Limited; 1958; p. 64, no. 206, pl. 237.
Sir Francis Watson, The Art Collections at Waddesdon Manor I: The Paintings, Apollo, 69, June 1959, 172-182; p. 174, fig. IV.
Ellis Waterhouse, The English Pictures at Waddesdon Manor, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 54, August 1959, 49-56; p. 54.
Jean Leymarie, Jean Emmons; The Spirit of the Letter in Painting; United States of America; Hallmark Cards Inc.; 1961; p. 73, ill. p. 71.
Ellis Waterhouse, Anthony Blunt; Paintings: The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre, The National Trust; 1967; pp. 34-35, cat. no. 4, ill.
Ann Bermingham; Landscape and Ideology: The English Rustic Tradition; London; Thames & Hudson; 1986; pp. 49-50, fig. 23.
Matthew Hirst; Les peintures: l'âge d'or du portrait anglais; Les collections exceptionnelles des Rothschild: Waddesdon Manor (Hors-série de l'Estampille/l'Objet d'Art, No. 14), Dijon, Éditions Faton, 2004; 22-29; pp. 27-28, ill.
Mark Fisher; Britain's Best Museums and Galleries; London; Allen Lane The Penguin Press (London); 2004; pp. 245-248, ill. p. 246.

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