Thomas Gainsborough, RA

Thomas Gainsborough, along with Joshua Reynolds, is seen as the leading portrait painter in England in the later 18th century. He was born in Sudbury around 1727, the son of John Gainsborough, a weaver and Mary. He spent his childhood living at what is now Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury before moving to London in 1740, to study art. He became associated with William Hogarth, Francois Hayman as well as Hubert-Francois Gravelot.

In 1749 Gainsborough returned to Sudbury with his wife Margaret Burr. He concentrated on portraits before moving to Ipswich in 1752 where his clientele included local gentry and merchants attracted to the flourishing port town.  One of his commissions was Joseph Gibbs, an 18th Century Baroque composer and Suffolk musical celebrity.

Gainsborough left Suffolk for Bath in 1750 and then moved to London in 1774. He continued to paint portraits as well as his preferred landscapes. In 1768 Gainsborough was one of the founding members of the Royal Academy although he later quarrelled with them over the hanging of his pictures and had stopped exhibiting by 1783. Having been asked to paint King George III in 1780 he continued to receive royal commissions.

Gainsborough died on 2 August 1788 and is buried in Kew Churchyard. Although he spent the latter part of his life away from Suffolk it was said in one of his obituaries that:

Nature was his teacher and the woods of Suffolk his academy

His childhood home was bought in 1958 by the Gainsborough’s House Society and by 1961 had opened as a public museum.

A large turnout for the unveiling of the national memorial sculpture by Australian artist Bertram Mackennel, 1913 (SROB: K760/1)

A large turnout for the unveiling of the national memorial sculpture by Australian artist Bertram Mackennel, 1913 (SROB: K760/1)