About the artist
Thomas Gainsborough was one of Britain’s leading artists in the eighteenth century and one of the great pioneers of the British school of landscape painting. The son of a Suffolk weaver, Gainsborough moved to London aged thirteen to train with the engraver Hubert Gravelot. He went on to study art with Francis Hayman and William Hogarth, both supporters of the Foundling Hospital. Gainsborough was only twenty-one when he painted this view of The Charterhouse. He went on to have a hugely successful career as a landscape and portrait painter and was a founder member of the Royal Academy.
The Court Room Roundels
This painting is one of eight roundels, or circular paintings, made for the Hospital’s Court Room, where the Governors held formal meetings. All eight show significant hospitals (residential charities, not necessarily medical institutions), including the newly established Foundling Hospital itself.
Gainsborough’s picture shows the Terrace Walk and the Great Hall at The Charterhouse. This was a charity founded by Thomas Sutton in 1611 on the site of a former monastery. It served as a home for pensioners and a school for boys. The pensioners had to meet one of these criteria; to be a gentleman by descent and in poverty; to be a former military or naval serviceman; to be a merchant who had been impoverished by piracy or shipwreck; or to be a servant in household of the Monarch. The Charterhouse continues its work with pensioners on the same site today.