Move to put ‘Gainsborough country’ on Suffolk’s map

A view across the Sudbury water meadows in the heart of Gainsborough country

A view across the Sudbury water meadows in the heart of Gainsborough country - Credit: Gregg Brown

Mention the Suffolk landscape and most people will immediately think of ‘Constable country’ and famous scenes such as Flatford Mill and the Dedham Vale which were immortalised by the 18th century artist John Constable.

Gainsborough's statue, which stands in the heart of his birth place in Sudbury

Gainsborough's statue, which stands in the heart of his birth place in Sudbury - Credit: Gregg Brown

But a new project in the south of the county aims to put the work and inspiration of Suffolk’s other famous son, Thomas Gainsborough, at the heart of the local tourism industry.

Via a grant from the John Ellerman Foundation and a collaboration with award winning local PR agency Spring, which is currently working on a tourism strategy for Suffolk and Norfolk, Gainsborough’s House museum is about to launch a new free map highlighting all of the places that relate to the artist and so inspired his work.

The idea is to make ‘Gainsborough Country’ as renowned worldwide as Constable Country and to entice more cultural tourists to stay in the area.

Gainsborough’s Sudbury – an artist’s trail mapping important historical locations in the town and beyond that inspired young Gainsborough as a boy and later as an established artist working in the town – will be launched in March.

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The idea came after staff at Gainsborough’s House carried out a survey last summer which showed that only two out of every 100 people who visit Sudbury stayed there for a ‘holiday’ and just over 70% spent only ‘a few hours’ in the town, with a mere 8% choosing to stay overnight.

The museum’s director Mark Bills said the results proved that measures were needed to encourage tourists to take vacations in the Sudbury area.

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The new map and trail will feature an annotated walking tour around the bustling market town with key locations highlighted in relation to the characters, buildings and natural features that were prominent during Gainsborough’s lifetime.

A primary focus of the trail will be the natural beauty of ‘Gainsborough country’ surrounding the town, including the famed water meadows which so inspired him during his childhood.

Mr Bills said: “Every year we see hoards of people going to Dedham where they really only have the Constable landscapes.

“By contrast in Sudbury, you can explore Gainsborough’s House where he was born and raised, numerous buildings associated with his family and the landscape that inspired him and featured in his work.

“If you look at London, you have all the great galleries like the National Gallery with works by Gainsborough but what we offer here is a really authentic experience to see his work within the situation where it was created and inspired, and that’s something nowhere else can offer.”

The idea of the leaflet is to draw people into the museum but also to ‘Gainsborough country’ by highlighting some of the places around Sudbury and its environs that cultural tourists might be interested in while they are visiting.

Mr Bills added: “We want to emphasise the fact that a lot of the things that you can see in and around the town today are the things that Gainsborough saw and were so inspiring to him.”

Once Gainsborough’s Sudbury has been launched, the museum is looking to expand the idea to create a ‘Gainsborough’s Suffolk’ leaflet.

Mr Bills continued: “What is unique about the county is the relationship between the landscape and the artist, which is a very special one.

“Artists painted everywhere in the UK but there’s something about the deep connection in Suffolk which makes it very different to other counties and it’s something people are very interested in exploring.

“It has something very special and unique and that’s what draws people here.”

The Mapping Sudbury project is being carried out by Louisa Brouwer, whose ‘keeper of art and place’ position at the museum was grant funded for three years by the John Ellerman Foundation.

She said the map and trail would also highlight the rich fabric of Sudbury’s built environment such as the parish churches and Market Hill with its statue of the artist.

“By presenting the unique spirit of the area through Gainsborough’s eyes, the museum hopes to deepen and expand its mission of creating a vibrant and forward looking national centre for Thomas Gainsborough at the heart of his birthplace,” she said.

There is a campaign afoot to get the water meadows and common lands ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’ status and Gainsborough’s House is fully supportive of the bid.

Gainsborough’s Sudbury map will be available from Gainsborough’s House and the local tourist information centre from March 5.

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