Wolverhampton Art Gallery
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|Location||Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton, England|
|Collection size||20,000 objects|
Wolverhampton Art Gallery is located in the City of Wolverhampton, in the West Midlands, United Kingdom. The building was funded and constructed by local contractor Philip Horsman (1825–1890), and built on land provided by the Council. It opened in May 1884.
The two-storey building of Wolverhampton Art Gallery was designed by prominent Birmingham architect Julius Chatwin (1829–1907). It was built of Bath stone, an Oolitic Limestone from Bath, Somerset, with six red granite columns indicating the main entrance. The decorative sculptural frieze on the facade is composed of sixteen characters representing the Arts and Crafts, including sculpture, painting, architecture, pottery, glassblowing, and wrought-iron work. It is a Grade II* listed building.
In 2006–07 the building was refurbished by Purcell, partly modernized and extended to create additional exhibition spaces.
The most outstanding artwork of international importance in the collection is the large-scale painting Peace and Plenty Binding the Arrows of War (1614) by the Flemish Baroque painter Abraham Janssens van Nuyssen (ca. 1567/1576 - 1632). Commissioned and paid for by the Antwerp Guild of Old Crossbowmen, it was a pendant to the Rubens’s Crowning of the Victor. In the 1800s, the city’s guilds were broken up and their treasures dispersed. Janssen’s picture eventually found its way to a Mrs Thornley of Birmingham. In 1885, she sold it to Wolverhampton Art Gallery. This is the only painting by Janssens in British public collections and a splendid example of Flemish Baroque art.
Apart from the Janssens' painting, the collection of Old Masters is relatively small. It includes a version of "A Spinner's Grace" by Gerard Dou, "Bouquet of Flowers" by Jan van Huysum. There is a collection of Old Master drawings, which includes graphic work by Wenceslas Hollar and Alessandro Allori.
A significant part of the gallery's collection was formed from bequests and gifts given by local benefactors and patrons of art. These include those from the tin-toy manufacturer Sidney Cartwright (1802–1883), Philip Horsman and hardware manufacturer Paul Lutz (1832–1899). They mainly collected contemporary and early 19th-century British art and today the holdings of the Gallery are still particularly strong in artworks from the Victorian period.
In the 1920s-1950s, a large number of artworks by Frank Brangwyn (1867–1956) were given to the gallery by the artist himself, and by his friend and member of Wolverhampton Art Committee Matthew Biggar Walker.
In 1924, a significant collection of Eastern weapons was secured. During the first decades of the 20th century many specimens of Eastern applied art and British and Eastern ceramics and glass were given to the gallery by the members of the prominent local Bantock family and several other collectors.
The Gallery has substantial collection of japanned ware and Bilston enamels. These collections represent trades and manufactures for which Wolverhampton was famous in the 18th and 19th centuries. The purposeful collecting policy of the 1970s brought to the Gallery a number of high quality artworks by leading British artists of the 18th-century Georgian period.
The gallery has strong holdings of artworks by local artists, such as John Fullwood (1854–1931), Joseph Vickers de Ville (1856–1925), George Phoenix (1863–1935), Alfred Egerton Cooper (1883–1974). In 1990s, following the re-structure of museum services across the area, the art and local history collections of the Bilston Museum and Art Gallery (now Bilston Craft Gallery) were transferred to Wolverhampton. They brought to the Gallery artworks by Edwin Butler Bayliss (1874–1950), another local painter of the industrial landscape of the Black Country.
Since the late 1960s, Wolverhampton Art Gallery has been amassing a substantial collection of pop art.
A special feature of the gallery is the collection of artworks which document and analyse the time of Troubles in Northern Ireland.
At present[when?], the gallery's collection consists of about 12,000 artefacts: oil paintings and works on paper from 17th-20th centuries; collection of Eastern objects of applied art; japanned ware; enamels; ceramics and glass; dolls and toys; and local history. Dr John Fraser's collection of geological specimens has also been preserved at the gallery.
A selection of objects from the collection are on permanent show in several display rooms.
The Georgian room
Selected paintings by the 18th-century artists from the gallery's collection include the 'Portrait of the Lee Family' by Joseph Highmore, 'David Garrick in 'The Provoked Wife' by Johann Zoffany, 'Portrait of Erasmus Darwin' (1792) by Joseph Wright of Derby, 'Apotheosis of Penelope Boothby' by Henry Fuseli, 'Arrival of Louis XVIII at Calais' by Wolverhampton-born Edward Bird. In addition, portrait miniatures, Bilston enamels depicting famous actors of the era, and some examples of the 18th-century Eastern and British ceramics are on display.
The Victorian rooms
The display in the two Victorian rooms present British 19th-century art in its relation with wider world. It includes landscapes by Henry Mark Anthony, David Cox, James Baker Pyne, David Roberts, narrative paintings by the Cranbrook Colony artists, religious paintings by Pre-Raphaelite artist Frederic Shields, japanned ware by local manufacturers which were shown at The Great Exhibition, examples of local Myatt pottery, and Eastern objects - Chinese ceramics and mirror paintings, Japanese woodblock prints, Indian pottery and weapons, Persian metalware - collected by local people.
The pop art gallery is a retro-themed, interactive space which allows visitors to explore the world of pop art with its vibrant mix of popular culture, social commentary, nostalgia, kitsch and celebrity. The contents of the Gallery changes approximately every six months to reflect a different theme found within the pop art movement. The display has contained works by influential pop artists Andy Warhol, Peter Blake, Roy Lichtenstein and David Hockney.
The Northern Ireland collection
The permanent display of the Northern Ireland Collection considers the role of visual artists in depicting and presenting the country's contested past and future. Artists represented in the Northern Ireland collection include Willie Doherty, Jock McFadyen, Rita Duffy, John Keane, Siobhan Hapaska and Robert Priseman. Highlights from Wolverhampton Art Gallery collection are shown alongside borrowed exhibits that offer different perspectives on the history of the conflict and its resolution.
The Makers Dozen Studios
The Makers Dozen Studios is a complex of workshop spaces for artists and makers in the West Midlands. It reflects the fact that for several decades following the founding of the gallery, Wolverhampton's School of Art and Art Gallery were under the same roof. The studios are based on Wulfruna Street and are adjoined by the new extension at the gallery uniting the studios with the original Victorian building.
Education and access
The Georgian Gallery contains a number of specially-commissioned pieces of furniture in the Georgian style which provide a hands-on exploration of key themes of the period, from scientific discoveries to the events of the theatrical world, and offer a flavour of life in the 18th century.
The display 'Sensing Sculpture' encourages visitors to touch, smell and listen as well as look at the works on display. Many of the sculptures come from Wolverhampton Art Gallery collection; some are on loan from their makers while others have been specially commissioned for the Gallery. Braille interpretation is provided throughout the gallery, and visitors are encouraged to learn some braille during their visit.
- Google Virtual Tour of Wolverhampton Art Gallery
- Wolverhampton Art Gallery website
- Browse Wolverhampton Art Gallery's collection
- Historic England. "Details from image database (378455)". Images of England.