The painting captures a very specific kind of aristocratic pastoral leisure, and it accomplishes this by insinuating a number of activities without actually showing them. Firstly, while Mr. Andrews holds his gun, he does so comfortably as he leans against a bench, seemingly indifferent to the prospect of hunting. Mrs. Andrews holds a quill, but she is not paying attention to whatever she might be writing, instead choosing to glance up at the reader. The wheat and penned animals insinuate the work of a farm, but the wheat has already been collected, thus further imbuing the image with a sense of relaxation and leisure. Because it is first and foremost a portrait, the painting serves to portray its main characters as hardworking yet not at all focused on the work itself, but rather the enjoyment that comes from its completion. Furthermore, the characters' relationship with nature is a complex one, because although the trappings of a farm and the suppliant dog demonstrate a kind of mastery over nature, the large clouds and extensive countryside in the background insinuate that nature nonetheless remains untamed and infinite (which, it might be said, is where the beauty comes from).
In fact, the curves of bench feet, which mimic the exposed roots of the tree, seem to demonstrate a desire to mirror nature through human production, such that the relationship between humanity and nature is not portrayed as oppositional, but rather complementary. Thus, Mr. And Mrs. Andrews are so content precisely because they have managed to seamlessly blend into the scene, so that although the humans are necessarily the focus of the image, taken as a whole the painting seems to suggest that contentment comes from acknowledging one's position in the context of the larger world.
Of course, this helps to serve an ideological purpose as well, because it makes the case that Mr. And Mrs. Andrews' clearly comfortable lifestyle is the result of some natural force, and not due to the inevitable exploitation of others (perhaps the laborers responsible for collecting the wheat in the first place). By replacing poor shepherds or farmers in a pastoral scene with aristocracy, the painting helps to soften the fact that these people represent the ruling elite, living comfortably at a time when countless others were barely scraping by. Considering this aspect of the painting, one is able to see how the inclusion of Mr. Andrews' gun and the detail of his muscles serves to demonstrate some portion of that social and political power, even beyond the somewhat more fundamental trick of giving a male character a large phallic object so powerful that it can actually kill things. The gun, after all, is passing in between Mr. Andrews' legs, and although the dog is looking up, his nose seems to be eagerly investigating his master's weapon. To complete this almost comical image of male potency, one may note the two sacks hanging from Mr. Andrews' waist. Thus, while the painting is undoubtedly a celebration of nature and its tranquility, it nonetheless cannot hide the fact that it is first and foremost an exercise in aristocratic vanity.
One can quite easily see how Mr. And Mrs. Andrews might be aesthetically pleasing, because each of the various textures, including the fabric, the bark of the tree, the wheat, the grass, and the clouds are made up of fractals, increasing in detail as the viewer examines them more closely. Thus, from a purely biological perspective, the image succeeds in portraying those visual features which human beings find most interesting, due to the fact that these same fractal patterns are seen in nature. Aside from this, the emotional response initiated by this peaceful scene helps to foment a sense of contemplation in the viewer, inviting further examination in a subtle, persuasive fashion (as opposed to something with a more violent or aggressive content, which invites examination by shocking or otherwise startling the viewer). Furthermore, the smooth lines and soft colors sooth the eye, such that one may travel through the image with quite the same sense of leisure demonstrated by Mr. And Mrs. Andrews. Once again, however, all of this serves to mask the underlying fact that this image is of a highly privileged class and produced at the request of people from that class, so, like all art commissioned in the service of the powerful, one must be careful not to be taken in by the comfortable lie supported by the painting. In this way, any reasonable critical viewer must temper his or her experience of this visually pleasing image with an understanding that this pleasure implicitly serves (or at least, served) to reinforce and justify an ethically unacceptable economic and social system. Of course, this realization need not inhibit one's appreciation of the image as such, but rather augment it such that the painting might be considered on its own terms as well as an artifact in the service of a larger social construct. Finally, one may at least temper any disgust with the social conditions that helped to produce this image by noting that its current home in the London National Gallery actually helps to subvert its aristocratic origins, considering that anyone wishing to see Mr. And Mrs. Andrews in person may do so for free.
"Thomas Gainsborough." The National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, 2011. Web. 28
Sep 2011. .
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