In Sudbury, not only are there four working silk weaving mills, but also an evocative museum celebrating the life of Thomas Gainsborough – in fact, it’s his childhood home. Spring’s delighted to work with this unique and special place.
Thomas Gainsborough was born in 1727, the youngest of nine, and he attended Sudbury Grammar School. At 13 he went to London to further his studies training with the French painter and illustrator, Hubert-Francois Gravelot, returning to Sudbury in 1749. He made a meagre living painting portraits of the local gentry and members of the professional classes, and moved to Ipswich, then a flourishing port, fairly soon. There, he had greater opportunities to develop as an artist, with more exacting clients.
But in 1759, Gainsborough made a decisive move to Bath where his larger studio space enabled him to paint full-lengths on a grand scale. His growing confidence as a painter from the 1760s onwards resulted not only from more sophisticated patronage but also his knowledge of the work of other artists. While at Bath, Gainsborough was able to see paintings by Van Dyck, Rubens and other Old Masters in the great collections at Wilton, Corsham Court or Longford Castle.
In 1768, the Royal Academy was established in London, giving artists an official position in society. Gainsborough was a founder member while his rival, Sir Joshua Reynolds, was its first President. This may have encouraged Gainsborough in his decision to move to the capital in 1774. The artist’s relationship with the Academy, however, was not easy and by 1783, he eventually stopped showing at its annual exhibitions. sIn London, he resided in the west wing of Schomberg House on Pall Mall, where he held exhibitions at his studio. Gainsborough died of cancer on 2 August 1788 and is buried in Kew Churchyard.
In 1958 Gainsborough’s House Society was formed to purchase the house and it opened to the public in 1961. People were encouraged to donate or to lend works of art, furniture, decorative objects or Gainsborough memorabilia, many of which are still here. Amongst these are five pieces of furniture on loan from the V&A and the six portraits by Gainsborough initially loaned by Lord de Saumarez, which have since been acquired.
Art is very much alive here. Encouraged and supported by Gainsborough’s House and with an active and enthusiastic membership of 170 artists, the on-site Print Workshop is now one of the country’s best-equipped and welcoming open access print workshops.
Under the leadership of Mark Bills, the profile and vision of Gainsborough’s House is expanding. There is a growing coterie of fans and supporters from across the world, many of them high profile people from the fashion industry, who have a real love for Gainsborough’s work.
Spring has developed a new creative style for the museum’s existing print work, and is in conversations with Mark and his team about ongoing work in support of the museum’s aims and ambitions.