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A couple of months ago, we wrote about the hidden phallus in John Everett Millais’ painting, Isabella. Now we’ll venture into similar territory, looking for phallic symbols in the mid-18th century painting Mr and Mrs Andrews by the British painter Thomas Gainsborough.
Photo: National Gallery, London
The painting was commissioned by Robert Andrews and his wife Frances Mary as their wedding portrait. The English idyll is there: the married couple is well-dressed, the man has conquered the nature, enclosed the cattle on the extensive, fruitful land. However, there is a reason why this painting was hid away by the family until the National Gallery bought it in the 1960s.
Gainsborough was a portrait and landscape painter par excellence, but the trouble with portraits at the time was two-fold: he often grew impatient with demanding clients; and while landscapes were his passion, portraits paid much better. So, he did something unusual for the era: he joined the two. In a witty manner, Gainsborough dedicated the majority of the canvas space to the land, sprouting dark clouds, and ensnared cattle—not necessarily the symbols you’d like to see in a wedding portrait.
Mr and Mrs Andrews’ expressions are dull; the only engaged subject in the painting is the dog who appreciates its owner Robert seemingly more than Frances does. Yet, Frances is expressing her desires in a different way. The white space on her lap might’ve initially been planned to be filled with a detailed bird, her husband’s prey, or a book, showing her edification; but, instead, Frances is drawing a penis.
On her husband’s belt hangs a bag of gunpowder, right next to his rigid gun.
It’s hard to unsee these details once you’ve seen them. Look at our dull couple again: do their intentions, their nature, seem different than what you saw when you first looked at this painting?