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Bury St Edmunds historian and former Sudbury Gainsborough’s House curator scoops major award after 15 year project




An historian has won one of the most respected prizes in his field.

Hugh Belsey, who lives in Bury St Edmunds, has been announced as the winner of the 18th annual William MB Berger Prize for British Art History.

Thomas Gainsborough. The Portraits, Fancy Pictures and Copies after Old Masters, saw off a shortlist including works spanning more than 400 years of art history, books exploring Roger Fry, Nicholas Hilliard, Van Gogh, Edward Lear and 20th-century British architects.

Hugh Belsey was the curator of Gainsborough's House in Sudbury for 23 years and has been writing a catalogue of Gainsborough's portraits which has been awarded the prestigious Berger Prize. Picture by Mecha Morton
Hugh Belsey was the curator of Gainsborough's House in Sudbury for 23 years and has been writing a catalogue of Gainsborough's portraits which has been awarded the prestigious Berger Prize. Picture by Mecha Morton

The annual prize, created to recognize excellence in the field of British art history, was created in 2001 by the Berger Collection Educational Trust (BCET) and The British Art Journal, in honour of the late American collector and patron William MB Berger.

“I am delighted to be awarded the Berger Prize for my Gainsborough catalogue,” said Hugh.

“The appreciation of my work is very humbling and extremely flattering.This recognition gives me an opportunity to acknowledge the financial support from the Paul Mellon Centre together with the kindness and hard work of many people who helped me with the book.

Gainsborough's House in Sudbury. Picture by Richard Marsham
Gainsborough's House in Sudbury. Picture by Richard Marsham

“Without their help, and of many others, I am certain that a catalogue of Gainsborough’s portraits would still be a pipedream.”

Scholars and enthusiasts have enjoyed the ambitious two-volume catalogue raisonné of Thomas Gainsborough’s portraits and copies of Old Master works.

The catalogue contains approximately 1,100 paintings, including nearly 200 works newly attributed to the British master, as well as updated information about his subjects and specially commissioned photography.

Each portrait entry includes the biography of the sitter, including several newly identified, the painting’s provenance, and exhibitions in which each work was shown.

Before becoming a freelance art historian, Hugh was the curator of Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury between 1981 and 2004.

The catalogue of Gainsborough’s work took him 15 years to compile.

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