January’s Bookshop of the Month – Gainsborough’s House

This month’s Bookshop of the Month is Gainsborough’s House in Suffolk, the childhood home of artist Thomas Gainsborough. Established in 1961, Gainsborough House not only operates as a museum and gallery, they also have a beautiful stand alone shop which offers visitors a thoughtfully curated selection of books. Read on to learn more.

© Hufton + Crow

1. Gainsborough’s House was founded in 1961. How has this rich legacy influenced your bookselling vision?

Gainsborough’s House in Suffolk is the childhood home of Thomas Gainsborough – one of the greatest figures of British and world art history. Gainsborough’s House Society was founded to collect and display a growing collection of art by him within this Grade-I listed Georgian House. We hold the largest collection of his work in one setting alongside art and personal possessions of Cedric Morris and John Constable, two other great artists from East Anglia. We set about to always stock books about these three men and often we are the only outlet for some titles. Sadly lots of well-loved Gainsborough titles are now out of print and feeling strongly that as Gainsborough’s House we should at least have Gainsborough books in stock, we always get very excited at the discovery of a new book on the block!

2. What is the history of the Gainsborough’s House shop? How do the exhibitions and collection displayed at the Museum inform your buying?

After three years of closure, we have just re-opened following a major £10m redevelopment and we are very proud of our beautiful new shop. Our old shop was very popular but we now have a shop twice the size and are developing our online retail presence. Just as the museum is curated, so are the ranges in the shop. A selection of the ranges is inspired by Gainsborough’s work – we take a painting, and the colours and content influence which products are bought to build the theme. There are also ranges inspired by the trees in our walled garden, the Quince and Mulberry. Finally, we have local themes like Sudbury Silk and our thriving Print Workshop. There are always a couple of tables set for exhibitions and when they finish, the books merge into our lovely Library range. Books represent a third of our takings and as a book buyer’s daughter, this is music to my ears. I love books and I am so pleased so many agree with me!

© Hufton + Crow

3. What do you want the Gainsborough’s House shop to bring to the museum experience as a whole?

We have seen a real lift in supporting museums by purchasing from their shops, especially in the last three years. When turmoil sets in around us, we all look to connect with history and nature almost in a bid to re-ground and re-settle ourselves with where we’ve come from. We see that in sale trends as people look to place a relevance to products. Plus, museum shops offer those unique and interesting gifts that are useful when we’ve run out of ideas in all the usual places! To know you are buying a specially selected gift with relevance and at the same time, supporting history and art – that’s a great way to round off a visit. As we stand alone to the museum, being adjacent rather than within, the shop is our chance to promote the museum through merchandise. We love a satisfying conversion from high street shopper to a visitor – our job is done!  

4. What sort of books do you find your customers are most interested in? Do they generally correlate with the Gainsborough’s House featured exhibitions?

We stock a large selection of art themed books in our Library section and these can be anything from the Georgian period, history of art and the hidden messages in art to the grubbier side of Georgian life and then a few fiction titles. Local authors feature too, we like to support and encourage sales, and they very handily pop in to sign their copies for us. With exhibitions there is always the jolly old catalogue but we like to buy books that complement an exhibition. Our current exhibition ‘Painting Flanders’ is a collection of Masterpieces from Antwerp not seen in the UK before. How perfect to include books on the artists featured in this exhibition, they offer depth and substance to the range.

Customers are varied in their tastes of books, some like the academic approach with a coffee table tomb or a “fancy that!” type read. Others like to pick up a book linked to another product – the ‘How to Cook Quinces’ book pairs perfectly with a jar of Quince jam. Our best sellers at the moment are fiction with a reflection, a journey of peace and discovery. Perhaps that’s another way we reground ourselves with nature.

5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop in the coming months that you’d like to share with us?

We are continuing to develop our bespoke ranges inspired by Gainsborough’s letters. The graphics on the shop walls, the point-of-sale prompts and the bespoke products remind us at every turn the delightful turn of phrase Gainsborough had. We have author evenings in the pipeline both for local authors and further afield authors with new related titles. Plus, we have new Gainsborough’s House publications for our exciting exhibition programme in the coming year. Our spring exhibition is Masterpieces from the Woburn Abbey collection featuring more Gainsborough paintings to rival the beauty of the hang in our silk lined gallery. Plenty of inspiration for more books – perfect.   

© Gainsborough’s House | Anne Purkiss

To find out more about Gainsborough’s House, visit their website, Instagram or Facebook page, or pop into their shop:

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