Gainsborough's showbox

Black-and-white photograph of Gainsborough's 'showbox', England, 18th century. Museum no. P.44-1955 Presented by the NACF

Black-and-white photograph of Gainsborough's 'showbox', England, 18th century. Museum no. P.44-1955 Presented by the NACF

In the 1780s Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88) painted a series of landscapes in oils on glass, which were viewed in a specially constructed 'showbox',  described in this way:

"The machine consists of a number of glass planes, which are moveable…chiefly landscapes. They are lighted … at the back, and are viewed through a magnifying lens, by which means the effect produced is truly captivating.'

Gainsborough's 'showbox' contained a painted glass transparency, set before a silk diffusing screen that was originally lit by three candles. The image is viewed through the adjustable lens at the front. The box opens at the top and back and also contains slots for storing the transparencies.