Gainsborough House, Sudbury, is a cracker. The painter’s home, furnished in the style of the time, is a museum and gallery; behind it, a well-architected annexe is a spacious and airy art gallery and events space. I sat out in the garden under the same mulberry tree that Gainsborough knew, planted to provide food for Sudbury’s silkworms. (They turned their metaphorical noses up because it was the wrong sort of mulberry.)
There’s a range of artists, eras, styles and media on display, some in the house, some in the annexe. Constable landscapes turn up here and there, and satisfyingly, there’s a sculpture by Gainsborough of the very horse owned by Constable.
There are modern works (including a frankly unrecognisable self-portrait by David Bowie, part of a temporary exhibit though) and a whole room devoted to the redoutable Cedric Morris, world famous in East Anglia. Gainsborough House is really very well worth visiting.
I could have stayed all day (still not long enough to figure out what some of the 21st-century lithographs upstairs were, though). But I had cycling to do. I did the northern loop of the Painters Trail up to Long Melford, said to have England’s longest village street.
It’s a pleasant hodge-podge of cottages, houses, pubs and shops that show its affluent wool-town past. Like so many places though it’s blighted by cars parked every damn where or driving too fast. Perhaps Gainsborough complained similarly about the carts and stagecoaches, though.
A muddy railtrail got me back from Long Melford to Sudbury. It’s part of a Gainsborough Trail under construction; all a bit splodgy and spattery this drizzly morning, but I was rewarded with a nice view of Sudbury’s older town that he would have known.
The rest of the day passed by in a pleasant succession of very winding, very quiet, singletrack back lanes, connected by the occasional muddy bridleway or short farm track. The sun came out, and the Stour Valley’s greens glowed like an over-coloured Munnings; there were horses in every field, it seemed, which would have cheered him up, especially as it was potential business.
Tiring of lane after lane, I eventually took a couple of minor shortcuts, one intentional, one not, and got back to East Bergholt where I’d started yesterday. I headed back to Ipswich along the A12 cycleway, passing a recumbent grinding up a long slope that looked like a 1950s space-age rocket. (Apparently, a Quatrovelo.)
In Ipswich I spent an hour or two in Christchurch House, a fine museum in a former manor house that displays plenty more Constables, Gainsboroughs and other artists (including a rather surprising view of the Stour by Pissarro; no doubt there was a damn cart trying to ford that, too).
The Painters Trail is a lovely route, doable in a day, more enjoyable in two, especially if you want to linger and appreciate the locations and ambiences of Gainsborough and Constable. It’s almost all quiet lanes, with open vale views all the way.
Artists might want to bring their easels and create en route; the only thing I was going to draw that evening though was some water, in my hostel in Ipswich, to make a cup of tea.