Galleries

After an introduction to Gainsborough at Gainsborough’s House, visitors enter two downstairs rooms, the Entrance Hall and the Parlour, which explore the achievements of the artist and his time in Suffolk. The Entrance Hall displays some of the highlights from the collection including Gainsborough’s Pitminster Boy, alongside Gainsborough’s studio cabinet. The Parlour displays paintings and drawings alongside period furniture.

The hall and stairs are filled with portraits of the Gainsborough family and works by Gainsborough Dupont, the great artist’s nephew, apprentice and studio assistant.

The two rooms upstairs consider in turn ‘The curs’d face business,’ the portraits of Thomas Gainsborough and ‘Nature was his teacher,’ the landscapes of the artist. The third floor is given over to a fascinating collection of paintings and drawings by John Constable.

Garden

The garden is deceptively larger than the first glimpse suggests. Its centre piece is the huge mulberry tree, dating to the early 1600s during the reign of James I, who encouraged the planting of mulberry trees with the idea of establishing a silk producing industry.

The Gainsborough’s House mulberry tree is spectacular with its spreading, giant boughs now propped by tree stumps still produce a fine crop of fruit. The silkworm breeding industry did not take-off, thanks in part to the lack of botanical knowledge of the King and his advisers. There are two kinds of mulberry tree – the white, which feeds silkworms, and the black, which supplies fruit.  It is the black mulberry tree that was cultivated in England, in estates and substantial gardens throughout the country.

An off-shoot of the silk weaving craft, 400 years later, is that Sudbury is the biggest exporter of silk goods in England. Vanners Silk Weavers, who back on to Gainsborough’s House garden, has been producing silk since 1740. They have produced the silk for several Royal Weddings and work with some of the leading textile designers in the world.

Head gardener Jane Lowe leads a team of dedicated volunteer gardeners who ensure that the garden is maintained all year round. There are two herb beds and another is devoted to plants traditionally used for dyeing fabric. The remaining beds and borders are planted with shrubs, perennials, bulbs and annuals using plants that were available in Gainsborough’s lifetime. Plants and seeds from the garden are for sale to raise funds towards the upkeep of the garden.