Highlights of Suffolk's collections
Ipswich Borough Council Museums and Galleries
Ipswich Borough Council Museums and Galleries have a distinctive collection of around 900 oil paintings, from the 15th century to the present day. Most artists have important connections to the county - and they range from painters who have shaped the course of British art history to names not widely known beyond the locality. The collections are displayed primarily in Christchurch Mansion and include substantial holdings of the ‘Suffolk School’, other East Anglian artists, British, Dutch and Flemish Schools, topographical, modern and contemporary painters.
East Anglian country houses once held a wealth of 17th century Dutch paintings and many of these have entered the collections as a result of country house sales. Pictures by Gainsborough and Constable can be seen in the context of the English and Dutch traditions that helped to form their unique visions, and through the eyes of their followers and later artists who portrayed the East Anglian scene. There are fifteen Gainsboroughs including William Wollaston and Holywells Park, Ipswich, both outstanding paintings. The nine Constable oils include Golding Constable’s Flower Garden and Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden. These small pictures of mundane scenes are treasures, lovingly painted in every detail to reveal John Constable’s “close identification with the landscape of his birth”. His rare ‘conversation piece’ Ladies from the Family of Mr Mason of Colchester is also of particular interest.
There are works by George Frost, an enthusiastic collector and copyist of Gainsborough, who also sketched with Constable; and paintings by the 19th century Ipswich group including: Edward Smythe, Thomas Smythe, Henry Todd and John Duval, whose Suffolk Show in Christchurch Park 1869 is a firm favourite.
Important pictures by Suffolk artists throughout the 20th century are represented, such as: Alfred Munnings, John Collier and the English Impressionist Philip Wilson Steer, whose masterpiece Knucklebones, Walberswick, is in the collections. Distinguished Slade artists who lived and worked in Suffolk are also featured, among them Bertram Priestman, Claude Rogers, Mary Potter and the Slade professor Frederick Brown.
Contemporary works include Champagne Laugh by Maggi Hambling who studied at Cedric Morris’ and Arthur Lett Haines’ East Anglian School of Painting.
Major historical and contemporary paintings continue to be added to these fascinating collections.
Paintings in the Borough of St Edmundsbury
St Edmundsbury holds several significant collections of oil paintings. Most are on display at the Manor House Museum, built by John Hervey, first Earl of Bristol, in 1734. This provides an impressive setting for the historic portraits, which include the Hervey family portraits and, notably, an important example by Sir Joshua Reynolds of The 3rd Earl, Augustus Hervey, depicted against the backdrop of his most successful naval action in the West Indies.
The Cullum family rose to prominence in the 17th century for services to the Royalist cause. They settled at Hawstead and Hardwick Hall near Bury St Edmunds and their family portraits, dating from the mid-17th century to c.1900, form the core of the collection. These include fine works by Sir Peter Lely, Angelica Kauffman and James Tissot.
The Manor House also houses the most important collection of work by Britain’s first professional woman artist, Mary Beale (1633–1699), who grew up at Barrow near Bury St Edmunds. When she moved to London, Sir Peter Lely gave her advice and support and she rapidly established herself as a professional portrait painter commanding a substantial income. Her work, with its understated and sensitive treatment of subjects, is now once again attracting considerable attention. This fine collection also includes three self-portraits which emphasise and explore different aspects of her role as an artist.
Landscape and topographical paintings, of local and historic significance, feature in St Edmundsbury’s collections. A group of four 17th century panel paintings depict Bury St Edmunds c.1690, including the old market Cross and Beast Market. Two intriguing “naïve” paintings show the opening of the Ipswich to Bury railway in 1846 and the mode of transport which it supplanted: the Mail Coach from Bury to Ipswich.
The Guildhall houses a number of 16th and 17th century portraits including a fine full-length portrait of James I, commissioned by the Guildhall feoffees.
Gainsborough's House, Sudbury
The birthplace of Thomas Gainsborough
Gainsborough’s House, a historic town house, has built up an outstanding collection of Gainsborough paintings and works by other artists. The museum purchased its first painting in 1984.
The collection of Gainsborough oils is especially strong in his early Suffolk works, but also includes representative examples from throughout his career. The first to be bought was Portrait of a Boy. Once cleaned, the canvas revealed that it was part of a double portrait - and seven years later another fragment, showing the head of the boy's sister, came to light and was acquired, thus reuniting the siblings.
Landscapes by Gainsborough include: Wooded Landscape with Herdsman Seated; Landscape with Cottage and Cattle by a Pool; and the conversation piece, Peter Darnell Muilman, Charles Crokatt and William Keable in a Landscape (acquired jointly with Tate). Portraits include: Harriet, Viscountess Tracy; The Artist's Wife; Reverend Tobias Rustat and Mary Cobbold and Her Daughter Anne. These are complemented and contextualised by drawings, rare books, letters, documents, memorabilia and works by artists who influenced, or were influenced by Gainsborough. These include Hubert-François Gravelot, Charles Grignion, Francis Hayman, Henry William Bunbury and the artist’s nephew, Gainsborough Dupont, as well as topographical paintings relating to the area.
The National Horseracing Musuem, Newmarket
The National Horseracing Museum illustrates admirably how the history of horseracing in Britain encompasses three of our nation’s great inventions – sporting painting, the thoroughbred horse and the codification of sports including racing.
It parallels the economic and social history of our country itself. Add a healthy dose of intrigue, murder, extreme eccentricity, huge amounts of money and larger than life personalities, and you find a fascinating slice of British history.
The Museum contains a vast and surprising collection of paintings, many of which are not only of the highest quality but of considerable social interest. Here are just three examples:
Daniel Quigley’s delightful portrait of The Godolphin Arabian shows an animal destined to become one of the three founding fathers of the thoroughbred, from whom all current racehorses are descended. He looks mournfully at the spot by his stable door where his companion, the cat Grimalkin, is buried – he would never allow another cat to take her place. Even today many highly-strung racehorses have a stable companion, such as a goat, rabbit or football, which will travel with them when they go to the races.
Violante (foaled 1802) with Frank Buckle up, by Henry Bernard Chalon shows Violante, a very successful mare, who ran many of her races at Newmarket, winning 23 out of 27 of them. Buckle, commonly known as ‘The Pocket Hercules’, was himself a phenomenon, whose record of 27 classic wins was only broken by Lester Piggott.
The 1839 Derby by James Pollard (1792–1867) shows the race taking place in a May snowstorm. That year the winner, Bloomsbury, was almost certainly four years old rather than the three years stipulated for the race. Certainly a number of bookmakers won a great deal of money!
The British Sporting Art Trust Collection, Newmarket
The British Sporting Art Trust was founded by a small group of informed enthusiasts, who were concerned about the continuing neglect of sporting art by most museums and art historians. Through the work of the Trust over the last 27 years, there is now a much greater appreciation of the genre.
The BSAT is in the same building as the National Horseracing Museum. The permanent collection is housed here, as is the Trust’s Vestey Gallery, where visitors can enjoy the annual temporary exhibitions, as well as the Print Room and Reference Library.
The permanent collection includes fine examples of sporting art from the 18th century to the present day: George Stubbs, John Nost Sartorious, George Morland, Charles Cooper Henderson, Cecil Aldin, and Lionel Edwards, to name but a few. The collection continues to expand and develop through a combination of gifts, purchases and bequests. These include a bequest from Paul Mellon, the great collector of British art, who was always aware of the quality of fine sporting pictures and who had a special interest in horses. He left to the BSAT splendid paintings by Sir Alfred Munnings such as The Start, October meeting, Newmarket and major works by Henry Alken Junior and the John Frederick Herrings, Senior and Junior
The Suffolk Punch Heavy Horse Museum, Woodbridge
Almost every painting in this museum relates specifically to the Suffolk Punch heavy horse and is of historical importance to the breed.
John Duval (1815–1892) was engaged by the Suffolk Horse Society to depict horses for Volume 1 of the Stud Book of 1880, which is unique in the literature of livestock breeding. His paintings for this project form the nucleus of the museum’s collection. These include Scot and Vanity, showing the mare Scot, the property of Richard Garrett (of the Garrett Works), two days before she foaled. When the foal was born, Garrett was so pleased with her that he instructed Duval to add a portrait of her foal, Vanity – who appears twice in the painting, unborn and newborn!
The Lowestoft and Suffolk Maritime Museum
The Lowestoft and East Suffolk Maritime Society was formed in 1958 by local enthusiasts. It preserves items relating to Lowestoft’s shipping and fishing heritage and the East Anglian fisheries.
Of particular interest are works by the local ‘pierhead’ painters, who specialised in portraits of ships for the seamen who crewed them. Typically, the paintings were of a broadside view with the sails set and, although free from formal painting techniques they are exact and generally technically accurate. The ‘pierhead’ painters worked quickly - so that that their prospective clients had not left port before the paintings were finished and sold!
George Vemply Burwood (1845–1917), an early ‘pierhead’ painter, was one of the most accomplished. A cooper by trade, he turned to ship portraits with such success that he adopted the style ‘Marine Illuminator and Artist’.
George Race, who worked in oil on board, framed his paintings with lifebelts. In the early 20th century, Claude Mowle and Kenneth Luck worked together: Mowle would photograph a ship and take proofs to solicit orders, and the paintings were done by Luck, using Mowle’s photographs.
The Long Shop Museum, Leiston
The highly successful Garrett Works were founded by Richard Garrett in 1778 and produced the first practical threshing machine. In 1852, his grandson built the Long Shop building which became one of Great Britain’s first production lines for steam engines. Traction engines, steamrollers, electric trolley buses and even ammunition were all made here.
On this site now stands the Long Shop Museum which holds oil paintings and portraits of the extended Garrett family. These include a splendid representation of Richard Garrett III, c. 1850, who brought steam engine production to Leiston in the 1840s. Paintings relating to the history of the Garrett Engineering Works include Edward Swann’s series commissioned in the 1940s.
Lowestoft Museum at Broad House
The majority of paintings on display are of local scenes. These provide valuable records of the area as it was, since many of the views depicted have changed over the years and some have disappeared altogether.
Highlights include Peter La Cave’s Yarmouth Jetty, 1803, with navel and other seafarers landing from a line of frigates, and Lowestoft Beach, 1803, with returning fishermen and expectant buyers on the beach waiting for the haul. Frost’s Alley Score, 1890, by an unknown artist, depicts the score – a path leading from the street to the beach – which was destroyed by enemy action in the early 1940s and never rebuilt. Its remains lie beneath Lowestoft Police Station in Old Nelson Street.
The Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum, near Bungay
This is East Anglia’s Aviation Heritage Museum. It not only houses an impressive collection of aircrafts and artefacts, but over 50 oil paintings. These range from Geoffrey Parker’s representations of First World War dogfights to a 50th Anniversary celebration of the Royal Air Force, which features aircrafts used in this period.