Tuesday, 3 July 2007


After enjoying the last school trip I helped on so much I was really looking forward to helping on this one. Although I like a good "picture" I've never been an Arty sort of person. When the time came to do my "options" at school (so many years ago now) I opted for sciences. So my knowledge of art, artists and art styles is pretty meagre (I do like Blake though!) So here I am living so near Sudbury and Gainsborough House (the birthplace of the artist Thomas Gainsborough) yet I've never visited it all. Well that's all changed now!

This is Gainsborough House

It is constructed from a timber frame with wattle and daub in-fill. The building was originally two cottages that were joined together in about 1520. A brick facade was added in the 1720s by the artist's father. In the 1790s additions were made to the back of the house to make it a more elegant residence.
In the 1890s the property was purchased by a builder and parts of it were sold off. The warehouse, used for storing cloth, now a restaurant, was sold and part of the extensive garden was developed as a silk factory. Gainsborough's House was established as a museum in 1961 and shows a large collection of Gainsborough's paintings, drawings and prints as well as temporary exhibitions.

Being a non-arty person I think it was good that I went with a school trip as the information the guide gave us was put in such a way as to make it easy to understand. The children were really engrossed and I was impressed at how well they behaved and how well they answered the Guide's questions. I think they understood quicker than I the difference between "Dutch" style and "French" style! It was more than a lecture on painting as quite a lot covered the history of the time. I had noticed myself that many old paintings have the man standing with his hand in his coat.....

but I just thought they were keeping their hand on their wallet...LOL The fact is that in those days a man would often carry a sword or sword stick; so when you met a friend you put your hand in your coat to show you were not going to draw your sword on them. It seems this evolved to become shaking hands.

We also heard about two paintings that once were just one; the children came up with some great ideas as to why the painting was split to make two; the most popular being that the brother and sister portrayed may have had an argument and each wanted their bit of the portrait.

I've seen some of Gainsborough's landscapes before; but never realised that many of them are of fictitious places. I assumed he would go somewhere into the countryside and sketch; it seems much of his work was done by making small scenes at home...as the guide put it "using broccoli as trees and other vegetables as part of the scenery" and sketching from that. This is a model of a horse he once did....and would subsequently use in a scene and from there a painting.

This is why some of his paintings are just called things like "Conversation in a park" or "Cattle on a bridge". It seems he also used many of the same characters in different paintings. The woodcutter was one person that is seen in a few of his paintings; when he knew he was dying from throat cancer Gainsborough heard the story of a woodcutter who being really tired threw his bundle of wood to the ground and shouted "Death take me" (or words to that effect). So Death appeared and asked if he'd called him. The woodcutter realising his mistake in uttering the words said "Oh I just needed some help carrying the wood"...so Death helped the woodcutter, went on his way and the woodcutter escaped Death. So Gainsborough portrays the woodcutter a lot as his way of defying Death.

At the back of the museum is a walled garden with a four hundred year-old mulberry tree. It is used for exhibitions of sculpture during the summer months. Of course I was in my element here...............and had my eye on this Penstemon.............especially when I saw they SOLD cuttings of some of the plants; not practical today for me to buy any but whenever I'm in town I may keep an eye out for this Penstemon for sale.

At the bottom of the garden is a coach house built in 1928 that has been converted for use as a Print Workshop. Two derelict cottages adjoining the east side of the garden have been refurbished and now form the main visitor entrance. I am please to say the much refurbishment has been done (supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund) which includes the installation of a lift - enabling wheelchair access to the first floor.

After a brief coffee/juice break the children had a chance to ask questions and answer questions (on what they had learnt during the visit) ....................

and also to try on some of the costumes from the period.......................

but they didn't have to try on the corsets which in olden days would cause deformities and pain in many young women.

Of course there is much more to the life and times of Thomas Gainsborough than we had time to learn today but at least I feel I know a little more about the life of the man whose statue I pass every time I go into town.


Leanne said...

hi mum, your really learning the history of the town arent you. glad you had a good day today. love you xxx

Mark said...

Hi Ruth, what amazes me is how you can remember what your options were...Lol Ho Ho Ho

Cheers Mark

Vic Grace said...

A very interesting post. I never knew that about why they kept their hand in their coat and that to evolving into shaking hands.

UKBob said...

Hi Ruth, I'm not an arty person either, the newer stuff leaves me wondering why the artist didn't just use a camera but I'm probably missing the point somewhere. Bob.

RUTH said...

Mark; yes I guess I'm rapidly approaching being an old relic myself...lol

Shaz said...

Looks like another productive day, are you finding a new career here I wonder? x x

Akelamalu said...

What a lovely post Ruth, I really enjoyed reading that, so informative too! Glad you're enjoying your outings with the kids, any more planned?

RUTH said...

Let's just say I'm on the "if we need help; ask Mandy's mum" memo over the school...lol

Mauigirl said...

Very interesting! I didn't even know there was a Gainesborough House to visit. Next time I'm in England I'll have to go. I love house museums like this, and art too. How interesting about the models with broccoli for trees! That is a tidbit I'd have never known otherwise! Also the hand in the coat thing!

Elsie said...

A very interesting post again, Ruth.
I am glad you go out so much now.
Keep it up.







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