Museums on the up
TWO of Britain’s most evocative artists’ homes are among recent beneficiaries of Heritage Lottery funding. Thomas Gainsborough’s birthplace in Sudbury, Suffolk, has received £4.73 million towards a £7.5 million development and Kelmscott Manor, William Morris’s Oxfordshire home, has been given initial support for a £4.7 million grant and awarded £334,800 towards the first stage of a £6 million project to secure its future.
Gainsborough’s House (www. gainsborough.org) contains the largest collection of the artist’s work, along with exhibition space and a print workshop, but has no room for full-length portraits.
A more ambitious approach is needed for it to establish itself as a major museum with the heft to attract loans from national collections and provide an educational centre for the study of 18th-century art.
Over the past two years, preliminary work has been afoot under a new director. An adjoining plot came on the market and, admirably, Babergh District Council bought it while the house raised funds.
The project envisages four new spaces: a full-height gallery, an upper storey with views across the roof- tops to the countryside painted by Gainsborough and two further galleries for temporary shows and contemporary sales. This will allow the refurbishment of the house’s period rooms. Expected to cost about £7 million, with an extra £1 million endowment, the project is seen as important for the regeneration of Sudbury. The revitalised house will open in late 2020 or early 2021. In the meantime, visitors continue to enjoy the rooms, garden and something of the atmosphere that Gainsborough knew. The 17th-century Kelmscott Manor (www.kelmscottmanor.org.uk), now owned by the Society of Antiquaries, was the inspiration of designer, poet, pioneer conservationist and social campaigner William Morris from 1871 to his death in 1896. It has changed little since the 1960s. Then, a few hundred people visited each year; now, it attracts more than 20,000. The society’s aim is to ‘transmit to a modern audience the excitement that the discovery and continuing experience of the Manor engendered in Morris, while protecting its tranquility and fragility’. Huon Mallalieu
Sir Bertram Mackennalõs bronze statue of Thomas Gainsborough in Sudbury