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Gainsborough at the National Portrait Gallery

December 2018  |  General

This is an exhibition of note for Gainsborough Fine Weavers and Dye House, named as we are after Thomas Gainsborough, a son of Sudbury, Suffolk, where we are still based. 

Gainsborough has for decades woven walling and curtain fabrics for the world’s greatest art galleries and, to celebrate that connection as well as the eponymous link to this artist, the National Portrait Gallery has employed Gainsborough fabrics to create a range of lovely accessories.

The exhibition offers a touching insight into Gainsborough’s family with portraits of his much-loved daughters, wife, siblings and parents. The familiarity, emotion and humour evident in this collection act as a bridge across the centuries and allow the viewer a personal introduction to the Gainsborough family. From the ‘Gainsborow’ entrepreneurial brother with a habit of not paying money back, to the depictions of sisterly love and incompatible marriages, here is a story that is infinitely relatable.

As these portraits are not as formal or forced perhaps as those commissioned by paying clients, there is a greater sense of fluidity. Often unfinished, the works map the path of Gainsborough’s development as an artist and as a father, husband, brother and son, often with satirical references and symbolism that help document the evolution of his relationships with those closest to him.

The style that Gainsborough uses is fascinating, with featherlight brushwork building up a complex and highly detailed face, capturing to stunning effect the softness of a cheek, the rose blush of youth and the plump lips, so vivid you could almost reach out and feel their warmth. This is juxtaposed with bold strokes, almost harried and careless in comparison that make up the background, attire and the painted frame which often encapsulate Gainsborough’s portraits in an oval. 

The opportunity to see these portraits together is not one to be missed; it is a fascinating and charming personal account, painstakingly and beautifully curated by the National Portrait Gallery. Gainsborough’s Family Album is on display from 22 November 2018 – 3 February 2019. The National Portrait Gallery, in partnership with Gainsborough Fine Weavers & Dye House, presents a range of exclusive products inspired by the exhibition. Available at

A range of luxury purses, clutches and bags have been designed by Alice Selwood, made with woven cloth produced by Gainsborough Fine Weavers & Dye House. Also within the range is a selection of gift and homeware products including photo albums, frames and notebooks. Available to purchase from the National Portrait Gallery shop