Thomas Gainsborough’s secret phallic symbols

The painting by Thomas Gainsborough of Robert Andrews and his 16-year-old wife Frances has three hidden phallic symbols according to art historian James Hamilton in a new book

The first phallic symbol according to Mr Hamilton comes in the form of a pair of donkeys

Renowned British artist Thomas Gainsborough hid three phallic images in a painting of a young newly married couple after falling out with the family, it has emerged.

The previously untitled painting which features Robert Andrews and his 16-year-old bride Frances Carter shows the couple sitting on their Ballingdon House estate in Sudbury, Suffolk.

A grim-looking Mr Andrews is seen leaning against a bench beside his wife who is underneath a tree. An area on Mrs Andrews’ lap is left unfinished so the painter could subsequently include a baby should one arrive. Behind the couple, there are two donkeys in a pen.

The second symbol is far more obvious, in the form of this rather suspicious-looking bag

Thomas Gainsborough completed the painting in 1748 for the Andrews Family of Sudbury

The painting had remained with the Andrews family until the 1960s when it was sold to the National Gallery.

The new interpretation of the painting, which disappeared from view for almost 200 years, has been published by art historian James Hamilton, who has written a biography of Gainsborough.

During an address to the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Mr Hamilton said: ‘It’s called Mr and Mrs Andrews not because that’s what Gainsborough called it, he didn’t call it anything.

‘This was because the National Gallery curators at the time observed the courtesies of their age and announced it as they might announce late arrivals at the young farmers ball.’

Describing the hidden references, Mr Hamilton said: ‘He is holding a shot and powder bag, in the distinct form of male genitalia, and a very floppy leather glove.’

Mr Hamilton also suggested there was doodle of a penis on the blank section on Mrs Andrews’ lap.

They final symbol is the doodle of a phallus at the end of Mrs Andrews’ hand on an unfinished section of the painting on her lap which was supposed to feature the arrival of a child

According to The Telegraph, the painting was intended as a celebration of the union of two important families.

However, Mr Hamilton suggests the painter had fallen out with the couple and included the barely-hidden symbolism.

He said: ‘Certain signs point to the painter’s revenge.’

He continued: ‘Gainsborough’s father John, not a very canny businessman, overreached himself. It may be that they forced him towards bankruptcy, with the painting being the way to settle the debt.’


Thomas Gainsborough, 1727-1788 was one of the leading portrait painters of the 18th century

Thomas Gainsborough is widely regarded as one of the leading portrait painters in England during the latter parts of the 18th century.

According to the National Gallery, his work featured his sitters wearing fashionable and contemporary dress.

His father John Gainsborough was a wool merchant which allowed the young Gainsborough to study in London.

He was a founding member of the Royal Academy.

He was born in Sudbury, Suffolk and was friendly with Robert Andrews and his family until they fell out.

A large bronze statue has been erected in Sudbury to recognise Gainsborough’s achievements.

Following his training, Gainsborough moved to Ipswich in 1752 before relocating to Bath in 1759, which was a popular spa town.

Much of his work featured rural scenes.

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