The museum in Sudbury was so determined to add A Peasant Family Going to Market to its collection that it raised pounds 357,600 to buy it. The black and white chalk drawing, just 16in by 21in (40.6cm by 53cm), is widely regarded as the artist's most ambitious work on paper. It is a tender depiction of a young woman surrounded by children and donkeys in an idyllic landscape.
The drawing was bought from Timothy Clode, an overseas collector of 18th-century British drawings. He bought it from the estate of Lord Clark, the art historian, at Christie's last summer, but it was stopped from export to allow a British museum to match the price.
In this case, the owner was persuaded to part with the drawing. Others might have preferred to keep it in a bank vault. But Hugh Belsey, curator of Gainsborough's House, said: 'It is strange that the legislation exists to stop things being exported from the country, but if a museum is able to raise the cash with which to save a work . . . the owner isn't obliged to sell it.'
The purchase has been made possible through an anonymous donation and support from the National Art Collections Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Museum and Galleries Commission Purchase Grant Fund.
The work dates from the early 1770s. It remained in Gainsborough's family until 1831 when it was sold at Christie's. In 1945, Sotheby's sold it to the Leger Galleries, and two years later it was purchased by the then Sir Kenneth Clark, who died in 1983.
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