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The Painter's Daughters with a Cat

Photo credit: The National Gallery, London

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This portrait of Gainsborough’s daughters is likely to have been painted in Bath a year or so after the family moved there in late 1759. Mary appears to be about ten or eleven years old, and Margaret about eight or nine. Margaret leans her forehead back against her sister’s cheek as she holds their barely sketched-in cat, while Mary wraps her arms around her little sister, partly to help her with the writhing cat – whose tail she appears to pull – but also in a moving gesture of tenderness. No other portrait of this date conveys so strongly the sense that it is painted from life.

Although the faces have been painted, most of the picture is unfinished. The feathery pattern of gold, blue and grey brushstrokes that surrounds the girls seems to suggest storm clouds, sun and woodland.

The National Gallery, London



The Painter's Daughters with a Cat


probably about 1760-1


Oil on canvas


H 75.6 x W 62.9 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought, 1923

Work type



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The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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