A portrait of Thomas Brooke by Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788) is on display to the public for the first time in over 100 years at Norton Priory Museum.

Gainsborough was the principal English portraitist in the second half of the 18th century, and also painted Thomas Brooke’s brother and other members of the family.

The oil painting is believed to have originally hung at nearby Hale Hall, the home of Thomas Brooke’s great friend, John Blackburne.

Gainsborough expert, Anthony Mould says; “Thomas Gainsborough’s earliest associations with the glamorous Brooke family circle seem instigated in the 1760’s when he first paints Lady Cunliffe, mother-in-law to the Brooke brothers, Richard and Thomas. Typically of Gainsborough, who died in 1788, the relationship continues into the early 1780’s with his stylish Rubensian depictions of these two brothers. This newly re-emerged variant depiction by the artist of Thomas Brooke, seated above an estuarial landscape, and in his later twenties, is recorded as having hung at the John Nash-altered Hale Hall just across the river until 1899. The return of this elegant and poignant portrait to the area on loan will surely prove to be of considerable intrinsic local significance.”

Thomas Brooke was born in 1754, the second son of the fourth Baronet. His brother, Sir Richard Brooke (the 5th Baronet) died in 1795, leaving his 10 year old son to inherit the title and estates. Due to his nephew’s age, Thomas Brooke acted as a guardian to the young Baronet, managing the Norton estates on his behalf. Records survive of Thomas purchasing plants for the walled garden at Norton Priory. Gainsborough undertook this portrait when Thomas was a young man, before he took over the running of the Norton estates.

The portrait of Thomas Brooke is on loan from a private donor.

Sir Christoph Brooke, the current Baronet said; “It is very exciting that such a rare portrait of my ancestor, Thomas Brooke, by the pre-eminent portrait painter of the 18th century, Thomas Gainsborough, is to be hung at Norton. We are most grateful to the private donor for enabling such an exquisite piece of art with such close family connections to be displayed at the museum.”

Frank Hargrave, Director of Norton Priory Museum & Gardens said; “We are enormously grateful to the generosity of the donor who has offered to loan the portrait due to their desire for it to be on public display. It is wonderful that a nationally significant painting is to be displayed in Runcorn.”