Gainsborough’s hidden flower is the key to unlocking his infamous painting of Mr and Mrs Andrews.

You can see the poppy at the lower right of his painting, nestling in the hollow of the nearest wheat sheaf.


The wheat has been cut and the land around it ploughed, yet this poppy is intact – perhaps it will only be a matter of time before it is cut down.

“The specific reference to poppies occurs in Livy’s account of the tyrannical Roman king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. He is said to have received a messenger from his son Sextus Tarquinius asking what he should do next in Gabii, since he had become all-powerful there. Rather than answering the messenger verbally, Tarquin went into his garden, took a stick, and symbolically swept it across his garden, thus cutting off the heads of the tallest poppies that were growing there. The messenger, tired of waiting for an answer, returned to Gabii and told Sextus what he had seen. Sextus realised that his father wished him to put to death all of the most eminent people of Gabii, which he then did.” – [2]

“The tall poppy syndrome describes aspects of a culture where people of high status are resented, attacked, cut down and/or criticised simply because they have been classified as superior to their peers.” – [2].

Gainsborough’s ire is raised by the likes of the Andrews’, who have carved up and fenced his beloved English countryside.

Gainsborough’s retribution is to caricature Mr and Mrs Andrews as a pair of grotesques. Look closely at the great oak tree behind them. Gainsborough’s treatment of the texture of the bark, of the light and of the shadows falling on the bark, is unusually detailed where it has no right to be in a portraiture.

Firstly, we see Gainsborough’s monstrous counterpart portrayal of Mr Andrews.


Then we see Gainsborough’s bleached death skull counterpart portrayal of Mrs Andrews.


Once we spot these grotesques, we always see them. Did the Andrews’ see them too? If so, what would they have done with the painting?

And finally … the man. Look for him on the third tree trunk in from the right. It could be a self-portrait, because in passing the profile is Gainsborough’s. But why paint himself in there? Perhaps Gainsborough’s smuggled in ‘The Green Man’.


A masterpiece, of subversion.