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Gainsborough bought for £7 goes to town’s museum

Mark Bills and Sophie Woods from Gainsborough's House with their latest acquisition. ANL-151205-130951001
Mark Bills and Sophie Woods from Gainsborough's House with their latest acquisition. ANL-151205-130951001

An original Gainsborough – bought for just £7 – will go on show at the artist’s birthplace museum next month after being bequeathed to the nation.

The landscape, which is documented in several art catalogues, has been given to the Sudbury museum by the family of MP Jervoise Clarke, who died in 1808.

He was an early owner of the painting – called Wooded Landscape with Old Peasant and Donkeysoutside a Barn – by Gainsborough, painted in the mid-1750s.

After he bought it, it remained in his family, being passed on by descent, until being offered in lieu of £560,000 through an Arts Council scheme, according to TheDaily Telegraph.

Mark Bills, director of Gainsborough’s House, said the museum had been waiting a year to receive the painting, while permission was given by the government for it to be bequeathed in lieu of tax.

“Gainsborough painted this while he was resident in Ipswich, but we do not know where it was painted; it’s very much a Suffolk agricultural scene,” he said.

“We are delighted to have it, and it will go on show to the public in an exhibition called Great Art in Suffolk Museums on June 6, which continues until October.

“We do not know exactly when it was purchased, but we do know the painting has been in the same family for years, and that it cost £7 when bought from Gainsborough.

“Of course, it’s worth considerably more than that now.”

The landscape shows an elderly agricultural worker, staring into the distance.

Museum officer Sophie Woods said: “Gainsborough gave lots of visual clues in his paintings. So you can see that the old man is looking towards the setting sun, which is a visual clue, and reflecting on the end of his life. There are donkeys at his feet and a spaniel dog.

“Despite the very obvious set pieces, the feel is of the landscape of Suffolk with its plough. The distant church tower is reminiscent of the towers of his clearly identified Suffolk landscapes.”

The museum is looking for an individual or organisation to adopt the painting, by signing up to Gainsborough’s House’s “Adopt a Gainsborough”scheme.

Under the scheme, which runs for five years, the adopter’s name will be displayed on a acknowledgement label, placed near the work.

The landscape needs to be cleaned, and this scheme will ensure the landscape can be restored to its full glory.

The new acquisition will feature prominently in The Great Art in Suffolk Museums exhibition. This will run in five museums at the same time – in Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich; Moyse’s Hall in Bury St Edmunds;at The Red House in Aldeburgh and in Newmarket, as well as at Gainsborough’s House, where it will be on show Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, and on Sundays, 11am to 5pm.

Jervoise Clarke was born in around 1743 and was an MP for 40 years, representing Yarmouth, the Isle of Wight and Hampshire.

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