South East View of Land-Guard Fort in Suffolk
Coloured engraving5 August 1754
About the work
This print depicts Languard Fort, located at the mouth of Harwich harbour, in Suffolk. It stands on a small promontory, jutting out into the joint estuaries of the Rivers Stour and Orwell. In 1753, travel writer Philip Thicknesse (1719-1792) purchased the Lieutenant-Governorship of Landguard Fort. Thicknesse could be said to have ‘discovered’ Thomas Gainsborough in the 1750s, as he was among the first to recognise the talent of the local Suffolk painter. The writer described a meeting with Gainsborough, when he commissioned the original oil painting on which this print is based:
‘… as I wanted a subject to employ Mr. Gainsborough’s pencil in the landscape way, I desired him to come and eat a dinner with me, and to take down in his pocket-book the particulars of the fort, the adjacent hills, and the distant view of Harwich, in order to form a landscape of the yachts passing the garrison under the salute of the guns, of the sixe [sic] of a panel over my chimney-piece; he accordingly came, and in a short time after brought the picture.’
Thicknesse also commissioned engraver Thomas Major to produce this printed version. However, the painting itself was reportedly destroyed by being left against a damp wall.
About the artist
Engraver Thomas Major trained under Hubert Gravelot before becoming an assistant to Jacques-Philippe le Bas in Paris. However, he was incarcerated at the Bastille in revenge for the imprisonment of a Franco-Irish regiment, following the Battle of Culloden. After his release Major returned to England and worked as agent for Le Bas, importing prints. He was appointed Engraver to the Prince of Wales. From 1753 he imported André Laurent’s prints. He engraved drawings for ‘The Ruins of Palmyra’ (1753), ‘The Ruins of Baalbec’ (1757) and published ‘The Ruins of Paestum’ (1768). By 1756 he was appointed Chief Seal Engraver to the King. Major became an associate of the Royal Academy in 1770 but exhibited there only once. He died in Westminster.
One of the founders of the 18th-century British landscape school, Thomas Gainsborough was also the creator of the so-called ‘fancy picture’, depicting rustic figures - usually children - posed in rural settings. Born in Suffolk, he studied in London from about 1739 to 1748 under the French painter and engraver Hubert Gravelot and the British painter Francis Hayman at the St Martin’s Lane Academy. Gainsborough returned to Suffolk in 1748, where he worked as a landscape and portrait painter until 1759, before moving to Bath. There he quickly developed into a much sought-after society painter. In 1774, he moved to London where he exhibited his work in his studio. He died in London in 1788.