Arts Minister leads call to save outstanding Gainsborough landscape painting

'Going to Market, Early Morning' by Thomas Gainsborough

‘Going to Market, Early Morning’ by Thomas Gainsborough

  • Arts Minister Helen Whately has now placed an export bar on the work in a bid to keep it in the UK

  • The beautiful £8 million painting is thought to be one of Gainsborough’s finest 


Arts Minister Helen Whately has placed an export bar on Thomas Gainsborough’s ‘Going to Market, Early Morning’ in the hope that a UK gallery or museum can acquire the work for the nation.

Valued at £8 million, ‘Going to Market, Early Morning’ was painted in 1773 and has been hailed as an example of the artist’s finest work.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788) was an English portrait and landscape painter. Born in Sudbury, Suffolk, he trained in London and was a founder member of the Royal Academy, later becoming a favourite painter of King George III and his family. Along with Richard Wilson, Gainsborough is credited as the originator of the British landscape school of the 18th century.

The painting depicts a group of figures on horseback traveling through an idyllic English landscape. The group are pictured passing a destitute mother with a baby. The scene is bathed in the silvery light of dawn; Gainsborough’s expert treatment of light gives the work an atmospheric quality.

Arts Minister Helen Whately said:

Gainsborough is one of the greatest British landscape artists and his works still wows audiences more than 250 years later.

This piece is a superb example and I hope that a UK buyer can be found so we can find a new home for this work in our national collection.

The Minister’s decision follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA). The committee agreed that the work was a brilliant example of Gainsborough’s finest work, and that the work’s unbroken provenance was extremely rare, providing an important insight into the artist’s working practices.

Committee member, Christopher Baker, commented:

Thomas Gainsborough is chiefly known as a refined portrait painter, however he also composed idyllic, rural scenes and ‘Going to Market, Early Morning’ is one of his greatest achievements in this genre.

With engaging figures and exquisitely modulated silvery light, it subtly displays his knowledge of 17th-century European art and is a delightful, lyrical, escapist image. It has been justly celebrated through a number of high profile exhibitions and has the distinction of a history that connects it with very important British collections from the time it was painted in the 1770s in Bath. It would be wholly appropriate if it found a permanent home in a UK public institution.

The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds of the painting’s outstanding aesthetic importance and its significance for the study of Gainsborough’s relationships with his patrons and with landscape art.

The decision on the export licence application for the painting will be deferred until 22 March 2020. This may be extended until 22 September 2020 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of £7,961,000 plus £234,200 VAT.

Offers from public bodies for less than the recommended price through the private treaty sale arrangements, where appropriate, may also be considered. Such purchases frequently offer substantial financial benefits to a public institution wishing to acquire.

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