In the first half of the 19th century, the Ipswich area was recorded in loving detail by two generations of the Nursey family of artists. Perry Nursey (1771-1840) was a surgeon, farmer, landscape gardener and painter at The Grove, Little Bealings, who exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1799 and 1801 including pictures of the lime kilns at Little Blakenham and Playford woods. 

Above: Claude Nursey, 'The County Gaol, St Helens Street' (oil on canvass)

An acquaintance of John Constable, he encouraged all his children to paint, and two, the Rev. Perry Nursey (1798-1867) and Claude Lorraine Richard Wilson Nursey (1816-1873) went on to become prolific artists. Rev. Nursey, who became a clergyman in Norfolk, also exhibited at the Royal Academy. The younger son was named after two landscape painters, Claude Lorraine (d. 1682) and Richard Wilson (1714-1782), both great influences on his father.

Above: Claude Nursey, 'The Wet Dock, Ipswich from Stoke Bridge' (oil on canvass)

Claude Nursey studied in London at the Royal Academy and as assistant to his father’s great friend Sir David Wilkie, Queen Victoria’s portrait painter. After Wilkie’s death in 1841, he returned to Suffolk and lived for a while in Ipswich, at New Street (1843); Berners Street (1844) and London Road (also 1844). The town council commissioned him to paint a series of paintings of Ipswich, of which three are known, and which were lithographed by William Gauchi. They show the Cornhill; the County Gaol and County Courts in St Helen’s Street; and the brand new Wet Dock (completed in 1842), painted from Stoke Bridge. Though much has changed, the sites and some of the buildings  are immediately recognisable today. Of the first, the Suffolk Chronicle of 5 March 1842 commented ‘The subject is a view of the Cornhill from Bale’s corner, showing prominently the front of the Corn Exchange – now doomed to demolition – and the façade of the Town Hall. The vista of St Matthew’s Street also opens upon the eye. The painting is a perfect transcription of a well known local subject’.

Above: Claude Nursey, 'The Cornhill' (oil on cavass).

Whilst in Ipswich, Claude Nursey also produced a separate series of local scenes on his own account, which were lithographed by Walter ‘Watt’ Hagreen of Ipswich. These showed the Brown Room and the ancient chapel, both in Mr Sparrowe’s Ancient House in the Buttermarket; the grand entrance hall of Christchurch Mansion (now Ipswich’s superb art gallery); the great salon at Hintlesham Hall; two scenes inside Framlingham church; Framlingham Castle; the old rectory at Erwarton and the Seckford Almshouses in his native Woodbridge. None of these scenes have altered much, albeit that the Brown Room is now full of Lakeland kitchenware products. Hintlesham Hall is now an hotel and the salon is virtually identical – because they used Claude’s print as their guide when they restored it. Claude went on to become head master of the art schools in Belfast, Leeds and Norwich, founded Bradford Art School; inspired the career of the Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt; and continued painting all his life. He is buried back where he began, in Little Bealings. 

Above: Claude Nursey: 'The Grand Hall at Christchurch Mansion' (lithograph, Ipswich Borough Council Collection, Colchester & Ipswich Museums Service). 

I trust all readers will agree that the Nurseys’ works are of huge local importance and interest. I am writing a book about them, and am extremely keen to hear from anyone who knows of any of their pictures, whether mentioned here or not, as I am sure there are many still to be discovered. I can be contacted on 07890 068218 or (Many thanks to your editor; to Emma Roodhouse and John Day; the staff at Lakeland and Hintlesham Hall; and also to Glenn Thimblethorpe of the excellent Saurden guest apartment in Playford, where I stay during my Nursey research forays into Suffolk, for the suggestion of writing this).   

Anthony Adolph


Next article