Rare English harpsichord saved for nation

Gainsborough’s House, has acquired a rare 18th century English harpsichord for £91,000, saving this important musical instrument for the nation. The Joseph Mahoon (fl. 1729 – 1771; d.1773) double-manual harpsichord, is significant because it is the only one of its type known to exist, and one of only two surviving instruments from the 1730s. This is particularly important as it was made when London was at the forefront of instrument-making among the major cities of Europe.

The keyboard, made in London in 1738, was blocked from export by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in early 2019 to provide an opportunity to keep it in the country. The ban gave enough time for Gainsborough’s House to step in and save the instrument with the help of generous funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund and the V&A Purchase Fund. The harpsichord will go on display to the public at the Gainsborough’s House from Wednesday 4 September.

Mark Bills, Director of Gainsborough’s House, commented: ‘This acquisition not only saves for the nation an important cultural object from the age of Gainsborough, but provides a centrepiece for the artist’s childhood home and the focus for the exploration of the musical world that he was so passionate about.’

Gainsborough had a deep passion for music. He counted many musicians amongst his closest friends, and he was a passionate amateur musician owning and playing many musical instruments, including five viola da gambas. The
harpsichord will be on display from 4 September until the House closes on 27 October for major renovations and a 500 square metre gallery extension. It will re-open in Summer 2021 as the National Centre for Gainsborough. The
harpsichord will be a central feature of the new displays in an historic room that explores Gainsborough and music.

Supported by:

National Heritage Memorial Fund
The National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) was set up in 1980 to save the most outstanding parts of our national heritage, in memory of those who have given their lives for the UK. It will receive £5 million of Government grant in aid in 2019/20. www.nhmf.org.uk.
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The Capital Project Reviving an Artist’s Birthplace: A National Centre for Gainsborough: Gainsborough’s House was recently awarded a £4.7m Heritage Fund grant towards a project to transform the site into a national centre celebrating the life of 18th-century artist. At the heart of the project is a development, which will refurbish and redisplay the museum’s historic buildings as well as to create a new gallery extension to house an ambitious programme of temporary exhibitions. Gainsborough’s House closes its doors on 27 October 2019 to reopen transformed in Summer 2021.

More at www.gainsborough.org and follow us on Twitter @GH_Sudbury.

Art Fund
Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. In the past five years alone it has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections. It also helps museums share their collections with wider audiences by supporting a range of tours and exhibitions, and makes additional grants to support the training and professional development of curators. Art Fund is independently funded, with the core of its income provided by 151,000 members who receive the National Art Pass and enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions and subscription to Art Quarterly magazine. In addition to grant-giving, Art Fund’s support for museums includes Art Fund Museum of the Year (won by St Fagans National History Museum near Cardiff in 2019) and a range of digital platforms.

Find out more about Art Fund and the National Art Pass at www.artfund.org