Bolton began to acquire artworks from 1853 when the Council first established a combined library and museum. However, very few artworks were collected before the establishment of a separate art gallery at Mere Hall in 1890. The Mere Hall displays consisted largely of nineteenth-century oil paintings; mainly landscapes, portraits and genre works. A handful of older works were also acquired, including Noah Leaving the Ark by Adam Colonia. From 1897 the Council began to buy a small number of works by contemporary British artists (often from the North West), usually from annual summer exhibitions of ‘modern painting’ held at Mere Hall. This included significant Bolton artists such as Fred Balshaw, Alfred Heaton Cooper and Samuel Towers.
In parallel to this was a period of collecting associated with Hall i’ th’ Wood historic house. This Tudor building, the former home of the inventor Samuel Crompton, was refurbished and given to the Council in 1902 by Bolton-born businessman William Lever (later Lord Leverhulme), who also collected and gifted a large number of period domestic objects to furnish the house. This included a number of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century portraits, including a series of British monarchs such as Charles I.
In 1938, the collections of Mere Hall were transferred to a purpose-built gallery within Bolton’s new Civic Centre (now known as Le Mans Crescent). Relatively few of these Mere Hall-era works now survive in the collection as many were disposed of in and before 1948 in order to create space for new acquisitions.
The basis of this new collecting was a bequest in 1940 of forty paintings, sculptures and drawings from Frank Hindley Smith, a Bolton mill owner. Guided by his friend Roger Fry, Smith had gathered an extensive personal collection of British and Continental art which on his death was divided amongst various art galleries including the Tate. The works left to Bolton had a regional bias, representing local artists such as Edward William Stott as well as British artists of national importance such as Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and two works by Roger Fry himself.
After the war, the Bolton Library & Museum Committee sought advice from the director of the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool on how to expand the art collection into one of regional significance. The recommendations were that Bolton should collect:
The collection has been built up by subsequent curators broadly in accordance with this master plan and is now a rich cultural resource for the education and enjoyment of the people of Bolton.
Of specific importance is the work of Bolton-born American artist Thomas Moran. The most significant oil paintings are Sunset, Pueblo del Walpe, Arizona; The Coast of Florida and Nearing Camp, Evening on the Upper Colorado River, Wyoming. Many examples of prints produced by Thomas Moran and his family have also been collected as a part of a specific and directed drive.
Matthew Constantine, Team Leader – Museums, Archives, Local Studies
Text source: PCF / Bolton Library & Museum Services, Bolton Council
This description was originally written for a catalogue.