Thomas Gainsborough hid phallic symbols in the portrait of a family he was furious with


Thomas Gainsborough was an reknowned artist in the 18th century. But he was also a bit of a genius in other ways, too.

It turns out Gainsborough hid three images in a family portrait – all of them phallic – after falling out with the family before the portrait was completed, and wanting revenge.

The portrait, painted in 1748, was of Robert Andrews and his 16-year-old wife Frances Carter, sitting in their Ballingdon House estate in Suffolk.

It was apparently painted as a celebration of the union of two important families.

But art historian James Hamilton has pointed out in his new biography of Gainsborough that there are some phallic additions to the portrait.

Here's the painting:

  • The first phallic symbol is two donkeys in the background.
  • The second is in a suspicious-looking droopy bag.
  • The third is a “doodle of a penis” on France’s lap, according to Hamilton.

Hamilton told the Cheltenham Literature Festival:

He is holding a shot and powder bag, in the distinct form of male genitalia, and a very floppy leather glove.

Certain signs point to the painter's revenge.

Gainsborough was a randy gentleman living in a randy age. Sexual innuendo and graffiti were not foreign to him.

A painting with such a high finish and express detail as Mr and Mrs Andrews would not have been left [partly unfinished] and delivered without a clear understanding, serious discussion or a fundamental falling out.

It was never given a title, it was never engraved, and was put away out of the public gaze until the 20th century when all involved were long dead and whatever controversy there was forgotten.

The painting remained with the Andrews family until it was sold to the National Gallery in the 1960s.

People on Twitter have reacted with humour to the revelation:

Mr and Mrs Andrews is located in Room 35 of the National Gallery, in Trafalgar Square, London.

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