Baptised on 14 May 1727, Thomas Gainsborough was the youngest child of John Gainsborough, a wealthy manufacturer and merchant, and Mary Burrough.[a]Gainsborough’s father became a postmaster in 1733 after being declared bankrupt. Educated at Sudbury Grammar school, Suffolk, the area he was born in, he displayed a natural inclination towards sketching from a young age. In his early teens his father sent him to London where he studied with Hubert Gravelot, an illustrator. Gainsborough acquired further experience by helping Francis Hayman with his work at Vauxhall Gardens during the time it was in the ownership of Jonathan TyersProprietor of New Spring Gardens, later known as Vauxhall Gardens, a popular pleasure garden in Kennington, London. . Landscapes and small portraits became the primary focus of his work in the city but as he was only able to achieve nominal sums for them he returned to Sudbury in 1748. A few years later he moved to Ipswich but although he was receiving commissions mainly for portraiture, it still provided him with an insufficient income, so in 1759 he relocated to Bath.
The move was a resounding success, and demand for his work increased considerably. A founding member of the Royal Academy of Arts, one of his portrait paintings was included in the first exhibition it held. His participation in proceedings was minimal and, after having a disagreement over the positioning of his paintings at an Academy exhibition in 1773, he refused to exhibit there again until 1777.
Gainsborough moved back to London in 1774 taking up residence in a wing of Schomberg House on the Pall Mall as commissions for portraits in Bath had subsided. After another disagreement with the Royal Academy Gainsborough demanded the removal of his artworks from the 1784 exhibition; he then staged his own annual display in the studio he had constructed in Schomberg House. He remained at Schomberg until his death from cancer on 2 August 1788.