Anna Wintour Behind Campaign to Expand Gainsborough House

Between Milan and Paris fashion weeks, Wintour stopped in Suffolk.

Anna Wintour and Nicole Farhi pose with Farhi’s bust of Thomas Gainsborough at Gainsborough’s House on Monday.
Photo: Courtesy Hignell Gallery.

The fashion designer Nicole Farhi has created a portrait bust of the British painter Thomas Gainsborough that will be on permanent view at the Gainsborough’s House museum in Sudbury, Suffolk, from next week.

The bust was unveiled on Monday at an event graced by non other than fashion doyenne and Farhi’s friend Anna Wintour. According to a statement, the two have joined together a string of celebrities—including Vivienne Westwood, Grayson Perry, Loyd Grossman, and Simon Schama—in a campaign to secure a multi-million pound plan to expand the museum.

Although best known for her fashion designs, Farhi is also a sculptor, who was tutored and mentored by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. In fact, Farhi has been sculpting full-time for the past five years and an exhibition of her artworks, including her cast for the Thomas Gainsborough commission, are now on view at London’s Hignell Gallery.

“We have received a sizeable donation from Anna Wintour,” Mark Bills, director of Gainsborough’s House, revealed in a statement.

The Gainsborough’s House trustees have submitted an application for up to £5 million (over $7 million) to the Heritage Lottery Fund to turn the neighboring former labor exchange building into a huge three-story exhibition space. This expansion would include a top floor where visitors could get a panoramic view of the landscape that inspired the painter’s most famous works.

“Nicole Farhi has brought Gainsborough and this wonderful museum back to life,” Abby Hignell, director of Hignell Gallery, said in a statement. “There is a palpable energy in Farhi’s work and she has skillfully captured the artist and the man. Even though they are separated by over 150 years, I think there is an understanding there—one artist to another.”

“To make a good portrait you have to try and capture the character of the person to come through,” Fahri said of her experience portraying Gainsborough. “This was a challenge as there were very few portraits of the artist to be inspired by. Nevertheless, when I looked at Gainsborough’s work I found kindness and love for his native Suffolk in his beautiful landscapes, and a certain sense of humor in his portraits of the society around him. These two elements gave me the departure for the portrait,” she explained.

A limited edition of 10 casts of the portrait has been created to raise funds for the development project.

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