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#RetroAGO: A royal art connection

March 19th, 2018

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It’s a mere two months before Prince Harry and Meghan Markle say their “I do’s”. Before you get your fascinators on, why not take a trip to the AGO to see a work with a royal history. Every painting has a story and we’ve got one with a very royal lineage!

The Harvest Waggon (the British and Commonwealth English spelling of “wagon”) refers to two paintings by the English artist, Thomas Gainsborough. The first was painted around 1767 and the latter created around 1784–85 and is part of the AGO Collection.

Both paintings depict a group of peasants riding in a simple wagon through a rural landscape with a collection of animals nearby. A young boy leads the wagon, while a man helps lift a young woman aboard. The painting is set in the area around Gainsborough’s adopted city of Bath, where he lived for 14 years.

Thomas Gainsborough's painting The Harvest Waggon.

Thomas Gainsborough, The Harvest Waggon, 1784–1785. Oil on canvas, 121.9 x 149.9 cm. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frank P. Wood, 1941. © 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario.

While the two paintings are beautiful and showcase the growth in Gainsborough’s skill, we promised you a royal connection… so here it is!

The second painting, created at the height of Gainsborough’s fame, was commissioned by an influential friend and patron of the artist – the Prince of Wales (who later became King George IV (1820–1830). Three years after Gainsborough died, the painting was shown in a retrospective exhibition and several years later the Prince of Wales took possession.

The painting was never spoken of again until it was sent by royal command to Maria Fitzherbert in 1810. Who is Maria Fitzherbert, you ask? Maria secretly married the Prince of Wales on December 15, 1785.

So how did the work come to be in Toronto? Maria Fitzherbert bequeathed the painting to her son-in-law and it passed through several hands until it crossed the Atlantic in 1913 into the collection of Judge Elbert H. Gary, one of the founders of United States Steel Corporation. When his collection went to auction in 1928, there was a heated competition for the work and art dealer Joseph Duveen for ultimately purchased it for $360,000 – then the highest price ever paid at auction for a painting in the U.S. It finally entered the collection of Frank P. Wood, who generously donated the painting with the princely connection to the AGO in 1941, and it remains here today.

Want to see this painting? The Harvest Waggon can be found in Frank P. Wood Gallery on Level 1.

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