Thomas Gainsborough was born in 1727 in Sudbury, England. At the age of fourteen he impressed his father with his drawing skills so that he let him go to London to study art in 1740. In London he trained under engraver Hubert Gravelot but eventually became associated with William Hogarth and his school. One of his mentors was Francis Hayman.
In the 1740s Gainsborough married Margaret Burr whose father, The Duke of Beaufort, gave them an annuity. His work at that time was not selling very well. He returned to Sudbury in 1748 and concentrated on the painting of portraits.
In 1752 he and his family moved to Ipswich. Commissions for personal portraits increased but his clientele included merely local merchants.
In 1759 Gainsborough and his family moved to Bath. He studied portraits of van Dyck and was able to eventually attract better-paying high society clientele. In 1761 he began to send work to the Society of Arts exhibition in London and the Royal Academy's annual exhibitions. He selected portraits of notorious clients to attract attention. Exhibitions helped him to gain a certain reputation and he was invited to become one of the founding members of the Royal Academy in 1769. His relationship with the academy, however, was not an easy one.
In 1774 Gainsborough and his family moved to London. In 1780 he painted the portraits of King George III and his queen and afterwards received several royal commissions. In 1784 royal painter Allan Ramsay died and the King was obliged to give the job to Gainsborough's rival and Academy president, Joshua Reynolds. Gainsborough remained the favourite painter of the Royal Family though.
In his later years he often painted landscapes of common settings. He was one of the originators of the eighteenth-century British landscape school, and one of the dominant British portraitist of the second half of the 18th century.
Gainsborough painted more from his observations of nature than from any application of formal rules. His best works display the uniqueness of his subjects.
Gainsborough died of cancer on 2nd August 1788.