£7.5m scheme to turn Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury into ‘major national cultural destination’

Gainsborough's House and garden

Gainsborough's House and garden - Credit: Archant

A £7.5million project to transform a Suffolk museum and gallery into a “major national cultural destination” is poised to go ahead after the Heritage Lottery Fund agreed to back the scheme, we can exclusively reveal.

Gainsborough self portrait 1787

Gainsborough self portrait 1787 - Credit: Archant

A string of high-profile celebrities – including Griff Rhys Jones and American Vogue editor Anna Wintour – have endorsed the ambitious plans for Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury, which will see the neighbouring former labour exchange building turned into a huge three-storey exhibition space with panoramic views of the landscape that inspired many of the Suffolk artist’s most famous paintings.

Although an initial application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) was rejected earlier this year, the museum’s trustees resubmitted their bid in June and this has just been confirmed as successful. The revitalised facility is expected to be up and running by 2021.

The project, entitled Reviving an Artist’s Birthplace: A National Centre for Gainsborough, will receive HLF support of £4.73m, including a development grant of £280,700 towards the £7.5m project.

According to Mark Bills, director of Gainsborough’s House, the new centre will bring tourists into Suffolk and act as a catalyst for regeneration in Sudbury.

Gainsborough House curators Louisa Brouwer and Mark Bills

Gainsborough House curators Louisa Brouwer and Mark Bills - Credit: Gregg Brown

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The estimated economic value of the project from 2017 to 2021 is £8,656,684 including £5.36m in visitor impact, £1.33m in employment impact and a £1.02m spend on goods and services. Mr Bills said: “Gainsborough is a great way of drawing people here to explore Sudbury and I think it will be a fantastic project with such huge potential, not only for the town but for Suffolk as a whole.

“I mean, how many big public art galleries are there in the county? It will become a great source of local pride.”

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Mr Bills described the HLF grant as “a great endorsement” of the project.

He added: “We are enormously grateful to them for their support. However, this is only the first step in achieving our future vision and there is an uphill task to raise £2.77m of match funding required within 18 months so we need the support of everyone, now more than ever.”

Gainsborough's House.

Gainsborough's House. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Robyn Llewellyn, head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said the scheme offered a wonderful opportunity to share Gainsborough’s “internationally significant art and history” alongside local stories of his family and Sudbury’s silk-making industry.

She said: “The project will create a major national cultural destination and it’s great to see the links with the wonderful surrounding landscape that inspired Gainsborough, as well as Constable.”

Meanwhile presenter, writer and entrepreneur Loyd Grossman, who has backed the project, said: “I believe that Gainsborough’s House has great potential as a centre for the study of 18th century art, as an educational resource for children, as a resource for local artists – especially printmakers – and as a contributor to the tourist economy of Sudbury and Suffolk.”

An open day will be held at Gainsborough’s House over the coming months to enable people to view plans for the project.

A Gainsborough painting

A Gainsborough painting - Credit: Archant

New galleries

The project includes a major three-level purpose-built gallery on the site of the current car park, Gainsborough Chambers and garages at Weaver’s Lane. It will include a major Gainsborough Display Gallery to show more of the museum’s collection and some of his greatest paintings from museum stores around the UK.

There will also be an Exhibition Gallery that can deliver large-scale shows and be a major draw for repeat and new visitors.

Exciting partnerships are already being developed with the national and leading regional galleries in the UK and Europe.

A Landscape Studio will connect the building with countryside that Gainsborough painted through panoramic viewing points. The third level multi-functional learning space will give stunning views over the rooftops and allow for an imaginative programme of learning activities.

Finally, a Community Gallery will complement the on-site printmaking workshop and offer a space where visitors can view and purchase a vibrant, contemporary response to Gainsborough and Suffolk.

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