Town is home to treasured arts

DID you know Ipswich has one of the largest and most important art collections for a town of its size in the UK?

James Marston

DID you know Ipswich has one of the largest and most important art collections for a town of its size in the UK? With thousands of oil paintings, watercolours, prints and objects much is hidden away unable to be displayed, as JAMES MARSTON reports.

IPSWICH has the most important collection of Gainsboroughs and Constables outside the capital.

These paintings and prints are worth millions and are well documented and well known.

Much of the town's art collection is rarely displayed with thousands of works kept in storage - but today there are plans in place to bring some of the collection into public display.

Emma Roodhouse is the new and first art curator of the Colchester and Ipswich Museum service and she is determined to shed some light on what we have.

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She said: “Ipswich has an excellent collection. There are more than 1,000 oil paintings, more than 7,000 watercolours and drawings, more than 7,000 prints and a small collection of sculpture.

“The works range from the 15th century to the present day.”

While much is displayed at Christchurch Mansion - including works by Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable and Alfred Munnings - much more remains in temperature-controlled rooms and under wraps in an undisclosed location.

Emma said: “We have some excellent examples of East Anglian artists and landscapes. They are of significant cultural importance.”

Emma said while some of the work is displayed occasionally she is looking to improve public access to the town's art collections.

She said: “I want to make our collections as accessible as possible. There's a lot we've got that people don't know about.”

Responsible for loaning, cataloguing and displaying the town's art collection, Emma, who took an art history degree at the University of Essex, also has responsibility for the town's decorative art collection which includes glassware, ceramics and furniture.

She said: “As well as the Gainsboroughs and Constables that are on display we have works by Thomas Churchyard and Leonard Squirrel, both Suffolk artists, that need to be displayed.

“It's extremely exciting to take on this job. A lot has been displayed at different times but it would be nice to see more on public display in the town, perhaps in non-traditional spaces.”

The 32-year-old said she is also planning a series of lectures and talks about the collection.

In the collection's storage facility we pass an oil painting by Sir Alfred Munnings, portraits and drawings before entering a climate-controlled room with works of art stored on a number of metal racks.

Emma said: “Storage is environmentally monitored for temperature and humidity.”

She points out a oil painting by Suffolk artist John Moore.

Born in Woodbridge, Moore was an apprentice to his father's business and initially began painting only as a hobby. He was strongly influenced by other members of the Suffolk School such as Thomas Churchyard and E. R. Smythe who also painted in and around Woodbridge.

Moore preferred to paint the East coast, the Suffolk countryside and Scotland. He became an active member of the Ipswich Art Club on its formation in 1875, where he regularly exhibited.

Emma picks out a stunning painting by the artist that's currently not on display - it shows a large white- sailed ship in dock in Ipswich.

She said: “This is oil on canvas. He painted marine-scapes. He was based in Woodbridge and painted local scenes. We have paintings by John Moore on display.

“This is of The Cut in Ipswich dock. Moore was a prolific artist and well known at the time. His work is interesting topographically and historically. His paintings reveal much about the history of the town.”

Emma said the art collection began with the bequest of Ipswich benefactor Felix Cobbold.

She said: “Next year is the 100th anniversary of the Cobbold bequest. It would be interesting to look back at the initial collection and form a display around the original collection.”

Responsible for decorative arts as well as the fine arts owned by the town, Emma also has responsibility for the art collection in Colchester.

She said: “There is a smaller collection in Colchester related to the town and area, again it contains work mostly by East Anglian artists.”

The Colchester and Ipswich Museum service also has costume, natural history, archaeology and human history curators.

In the Wolsey Gallery at the mansion Emma points out her favourite painting in the collection.

She said: “It was painted by Thomas Gainsborough in 1759 and is a portrait of Ipswich MP William Wollaston. I really like the figure.

“When this was painted it wasn't in the traditional style of a subject staring out of the painting. Wollaston is relaxed and he's holding a musical instrument, which gives a clue to his relationship with Gainsborough.

“They would have known each other probably through their shared interest in music. The detail and the red colours of the clothes are also excellent.

“It is one of the most important paintings in the collection. It is a very intimate view.”

- Do you have a favourite painting in the collection? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to

Thomas Gainsborough - Fast Facts

- Gainsborough was born in 1727 in Sudbury, the son of a weaver.

- At the age of 13 he impressed his father with his pencilling skills so that he let him go to London to study art in 1740.

- In the 1740s, Gainsborough married Margaret Burr, an illegitimate daughter of a duke.

- He returned to Sudbury in 1748-1749 and concentrated on the painting of portraits.

- In 1752, he and his family, now including two daughters, moved to Ipswich where his clientele included mainly local merchants and squires.

- In 1759, Gainsborough and his family moved to Bath.

- From 1769 on, he submitted works to the Royal Academy's annual exhibitions. He selected portraits of well-known or notorious clients in order to attract attention.

- In 1774, Gainsborough and his family moved to London.

- In 1780, he painted the portraits of King George III and his queen and afterwards received many royal commissions.

- He died in 1788 and is buried at St. Anne's Church, Kew.