Monday, 26 October 2009

Mr and Mrs Andrews

Let me introduce you to Mr and Mrs Andrews. This couple, immersed in their country estate have followed and popped up in my life, rather a few times. In a way they are my inspiration, they point me in the right direction, just knowing they are there, looking on and watching helps a little.

I was inspired to post this after reading on the Madeleine Wunderkammer's delightful blog and post regarding her adventures in the National Gallery down in London. The National Gallery is additionally where Mr and Mrs Andrews proudly hang, surveying and watching the endless streams of art onlookers. They have come a far way since being painted by Thomas Gainsborough in 1750. As an artist, Gainsborough made his name with two main passions in his work - that of portraiture and landscape, which in turn Mr and Mrs Andrews encompass.

[Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough 1750. Image taken from the National Gallery, London]

The marriage between Robert Andrews who at the age of twenty two wed his sixteen year old bride Francis Carter occurred two years before this oil painting was commissioned in 1748. The couple sit in their "unmistakably English" landscape, of the fertile lands of Andrews estate in North Essex underneath an oak tree, one which still grows in the same position even today.

I first came across the couple when I was in Secondary School between English Literature and Art classes, of the greats and the talents of old masters, of old art styles. With a leaning towards older, more historical art over its modern contemporaries the relationship and the surroundings of man and wife has always intrigued me. Now they seem to pop up at the most random of times, or in retrospect not really so random. Through my geography degree the first reappeared through the possibilities of studying the landscape, yet not something I thought of until I began my Masters Degree and properly studied and read up on the workings and analysis of the landscape as a feminine entity, of how artist representations marginalise the feminine from the view.

And this occurs to an extent within Mr and Mrs Andrews, but with an all important twist. Within this work the landscape is masculine, it is Mr Andrews standing within his landscape. He's stood looking active, dog at foot. While he benefits from the fortunes of his fertile landscape, none of his workers are depicted, only the lush fields. The masculine is dominant and active, the feminine in turn is considered to be passive, merely seating. Mrs Andrews is just a feature in the landscape, her husband its owner.

In some manners, Mrs Andrews is a passive feminine figure in her husbands landscape. She herself remains unfinished, the brown patch on her lap is debated as space for either sewing or child. She is sandwiched between tree and the rococo bench, sitting and subjected to the masculine gaze of her spectators.

And here lies the turn.

Traditionally women within landscape imagery are narrated as rarely returning the masculine gaze. Their eyes are normally turned away, downtrodden, looking out from the sides of the frame. There rarely looking back at us. Mrs Andrews returns our gaze, she looks straight at us, questioning and returning our look. She may be passive in their landscape, yet as a body, she remains somewhat empowered.

Mrs Andrews reminds me of the need to do my visual research, she reminds me that women really aren't as passive as first conceived within discourses.

And if you ever get to the National Gallery, do tell Mr and Mrs Andrews I said a welcoming hello, I will no doubt be stumbling over them again sometime soon.


  1. I first met Mr & Mrs andrews when studying dress history at university, The sartorial statement
    is as important as the landscape, Mrs A's dress is an example of conspicuous comsumption (here's the dress bill, dear)
    as well as exemplifying her good taste. Thanks for the trip down memeory lane - thats just behind those trees on the right
    of the picture.

  2. Hey, what a great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on a favourite painting... I'm really annoyed now to have not noticed Mr & Mrs Andrews at the Gallery! Next time, my dear!


  3. What a fascinating piece! I could go on and on about this topic (too many years of grad studies spent on this!) Instead, I'll say that I am interested in this topic of the "female gaze" too and found the notion of the "feminine masquerade" (coined by Joan Riviere in the 40s and then extended by people like Judith Butler and Marianne Doane et al) useful in my own work in this area. Laura Mulvey is often cited too, for her work in relation to gender, sexuality and film....I'm sure there are tons of more recent scholars who have revised Mulvey's theories about women as represented for their "to-be-looked-at-ness" (her term), but I can't think of any off the top. Anyway, as always your blog is so interesting and informative. THANKS!

  4. Thank you for your comments! I just love her dress too Miss Rayne!

    @ Frivolous Flipper - thanks for mentioning them names, I've spent many a long night getting my head around Judith Butlers work [she's not the easiest person to read!] but I've never come across Doane et al and Mulveys work so i'll be having a good look-see about that!

  5. Have you read Chloe by Freya North? If not, Mrs Andrews advises that you should do so forthwith.