In February Gainsborough’s House will be opening a display of art works, painting materials and family memorabilia by Suffolk-born artist John Constable (1776-1837). These have descended directly through Constable’s heirs and, together with additional archival material from the same collection, will remain at Gainsborough’s House on long loan.
Born in East Bergholt, not far from Sudbury, Constable was a great admirer of his Suffolk antecedent Thomas Gainsborough. Indeed, in his early career Constable tended to see the local landscape through the latter’s eyes, telling a friend ‘ I fancy I see Gainsborough in every hedge and hollow tree’. Examples of some of Constable’s early drawings which reveal the influence of Gainsborough’s style will be included in the exhibition, shown alongside sketches of shipping, studies from plaster casts and from the life model which Constable made when a student at the Royal Academy schools – even, indeed, some designs he made for a local Suffolk altarpiece. Complementing these will be examples of Constable’s later landscape drawings and watercolours which show his more mature style – such as a View of London from Hampstead, c. 1830, with its magnificently expressive sky. Another highlight in the display will be the striking oil sketch of a Moorhen Startled from its Nest which Constable later used in his large exhibition canvas The Leaping Horse, 1825 (Royal Academy).
In addition to these, the display will include some more personal items belonging to Constable and his family such as the ring he gave to Maria Bicknell on their wedding day in 1816 (which took place after an extended courtship of seven years), or some locks of Constable’s hair dating from the time he was a child. There will also be some family portraits, painted by Constable himself. Other exhibited items will relate more closely to the artist’s professional life or his reputation, such as the paint box he used in his mid to late career which still contains a number of his paintbrushes as well as glass phials of dry pigment; or the large print he published after one of his most important late paintings, Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, 1831, the latter recently acquired by Tate on behalf of the nation.
Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88) was born in Sudbury and baptised at the Independent Meeting-House in Friars Street on 14 May 1727, the fifth son and ninth child of John and Mary Gainsborough. In 1958, Gainsborough’s House Society was formed to purchase the house and establish it as a centre for Thomas Gainsborough. The Museum opened to the public in 1961 and has remained open for over 50 years. The beautiful historic garden at the heart of Gainsborough’s House is maintained by a devoted body of volunteers, who garden exclusively with plants that were available in Gainsborough’s lifetime.
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