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Gainsborough and the legacy of landscape: Masterpieces from Woburn Abbey

For the first time in their history two great masterpieces by Thomas Gainsborough painted in 1755 are being exhibited at his childhood home in Suffolk, from March 11-June 11.

Landseer Deer in Coldbath Fields c. 1835 1494 © from The Woburn Abbey Collection.

The two paintings were bought by John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford for £21 and 15 guineas, the price reflective of how early in Gainsborough’s career that they were purchased. They are the centrepiece of this exhibition, displayed alongside a series of earlier landscape masterpieces from the Woburn Abbey collection.

Included are works of the great seventeenth Dutch and Flemish landscape paintings which had such a profound influence on Gainsborough. Works by Aelbert Cuyp (1620-91) and Paulus Potter (1625-54) are represented, together with a major classical landscape by seventeenth century French artist Claude Lorrain (1600-82), whose paintings inspired Gainsborough’s later landscapes.

The exhibition not only displays works that inspired Gainsborough, but also the school of British landscape painting that Gainsborough was pivotal in influencing.

Gainsborough A Wooded Landscape, 1755 1465 © from The Woburn Abbey Collection.

Works by Frederick Richard Lee (1798-1879), Sir Augustus Wall Callcott (1779-1844), and Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-28) are shown alongside one of Sir Edwin Landseer’s (1802-1873) greatest landscape paintings, Deer in Coldbath Fields (c1835). The accompanying catalogue has two essays which explore in turn the influence of Dutch landscapes on Gainsborough’s painting and the patronage of landscape painting by John, the 6th Duke of Bedford.

The exhibition arose from the major restoration project of Woburn Abbey which has allowed their treasures to travel. Drawn from the rich collection, the exhibition, conceived by the curators at Woburn Abbey, draws on the great passion for the landscape and landscape painting that has become an indelible part of the English psyche.

Cuyp Landscape with Artist Sketching c. 1652 1303 © from The Woburn Abbey Collection.

Matthew Hirst, Curator, Woburn Abbey said: ‘The opportunity to explore these subjects and bring together familiar masterpieces with a new lens, is made possible by the temporary closure of Woburn Abbey to enable a generational
investment in its fabric and infrastructure and the subsequent redisplay of the collections.’

It is hugely fitting that the exhibition will take place at the recently redeveloped Gainsborough’s House, a National Centre for Thomas Gainsborough. From the new building the landscape that Gainsborough painted is visible and this exhibition and its exploration of landscape painting is an opportunity to see how Gainsborough was central to the landscape tradition.

Receipt to His Grace the Duke of Bedford © from The Woburn Abbey Collection.

Mark Bills, Director of Gainsborough’s House said: ‘This is an important moment for Gainsborough’s House, to welcome one of the great landscape collections for exhibition. It is particularly significant for us because it has Gainsborough at its heart. I know that the wonderful connections that the exhibition makes, will open people’s eyes to landscapes and their depiction by some of the world’s greatest artists.’

For booking and further information:

Location: Gainsborough’s House, 46 Gainsborough Street, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2EU

Opening Times: Open Monday –Sunday 10am-5pm