The paintings belonging to Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum form a rich and diverse collection that is rooted in the town’s history and the wider Gloucestershire context.
An astounding part of the Collection is of Dutch seventeenth-century paintings presented to the town, together with £1,000 towards the building of an art gallery, by the 3rd Baron de Ferrieres, former Mayor of Cheltenham and MP, in 1898. The collection had been created by his father, the 2nd Baron, when living in Brussels in the 1840s and 1850s. He died in Cheltenham in 1864. The gift also includes Dutch and Belgian nineteenth-century works. The most significant pictures are the moral tales attributed to Jan Steen, The Fat Kitchen and The Lean Kitchen, and, A Man and a Woman at Wine by Gabriel Metsu, an enduring image full of humanity. Also of interest is the Self Portrait by Gerrit Dou, with its delight in the trappings of the artist’s profession and surface texture.1
Highlights from the eighteenth century are the panoramic paintings of Gloucestershire, depicting Rodborough Fort, Dixton Manor and Charlton Park. Countryside around Dixton Manor, Gloucestershire (Harvesters), by the British (English) School shows all the activities linked to haymaking, from cutting hay to Morris dancing, depicted in one scene. Panoramic View of Charlton Park, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire by Thomas Robins is an interesting depiction of a formal garden, including a view of the embryonic Cheltenham in the far distance.
Cheltenham’s significance as the home of Lord Northwick’s collection, one of the greatest art collections ever formed in England, is reflected in two pictures – Philip James de Loutherbourg’s Château de Chillon, Switzerland, and The Grand Canal, Venice, Italy, Looking towards Santa Maria degli Scalzi and Santa Lucia by Francesco Guardi, which were originally owned by him. His collection was housed at Thirlestaine House, now Cheltenham College, and was a pioneering venture; an art collection that was also open to the public. The Grand Canal is one of two paintings by Guardi, both from Gloucestershire families accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum.
There is an interesting group of Victorian narrative paintings, including visitors’ favourites, Lost or Strayed by Briton Riviere, Enid Driving the Robbers’ Horses by Rowland Wheelwright and The Lonely Life by Hugh Goldwin Riviere. The Collection also includes a number of examples by women artists from this period including an unusual nude, A Wood Nymph by Mary F. Raphael, and the delightful Malvern Abbey, Worcestershire by Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson.
Cheltenham’s nationally important, Designated Arts and Crafts Movement collection is reflected in works by artists who have links with the Movement, several of whom also moved to the Cotswolds in the early years of the twentieth century. These include Sir William Rothenstein, Principal of the Royal College of Art, Charles March Gere, known for his precise and detailed style in the manner of the early Italian masters, his sister Margaret Gere, Henry Albert Payne and Dorothy Larcher. The Arts and Crafts revival of tempera painting is represented by work by Joseph Edward Southall, a leading figure of the Birmingham group. The Librarian Curator, Daniel W. Herdman, was an influential figure, adept at developing relationships with these artists, and there are many letters in the painting history files from key figures. Herdman was also important in recognising talent. In 1925 he organised the first exhibition outside of St Ives of work by the St Ives Society of Artists, and in 1936 the first one man show for surrealist Ithell Colquhoun. Work from both exhibitions was also acquired. There was a lively art scene in the county in the 1920s and 1930s, particularly as a result of artists working at the local colleges, including James Bateman, Arthur Bell and James Walker Tucker, and because of the activities of the progressive Cheltenham Group of Artists, including Alfred Henry Robinson Thornton and Gerald Gardiner, all of whom are represented in the Collection.
The Collection is rich in portraits, from the seventeenth-century portrait ofAmy Seymour by a follower of Robert Peake, to Regency and twentieth-century examples including Neville Lewis’s 1920s Kaffir Head. In recent years projects with schools, exhibitions and displays have been developed in response to the works.
The generosity of the Contemporary Art Society, of which Cheltenham became a member in the early 1940s, has been crucial in the development of a significant collection of twentieth-century work, including paintings by Leslie Hurry, Paul Nash, Duncan Grant, Frank Avray Wilson and Harold Cohen. Highlights include Village Life by Stanley Spencer, painted during Spencer’s stay in Leonard Stanley, Gloucestershire in 1939–1940, and Landscape by Ian Fairweather, the choice of which caused controversy at the time. He is now recognised as one of Australia’s most significant twentieth-century artists.
Bequests have also been a great help in developing the Collection, most recently the Danielle Harrison bequest of work from the 1980s and 1990s which included paintings by John Bellany and Peter Howson. Also important was the 1989 gift by the Trustees of the R. E. Summerfield Charitable Trust through the Friends of Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum which included Vanessa Bell’s Window, Still Life and The Ugly Duckling by Frank Cadogan Cowper, voted visitors’ favourite painting in 2005. Gifts from the War Artists Advisory Committee, from HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and generous financial support from the Friends of the Art Gallery & Museum, Museums, Libraries and Archives Council/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, The Art Fund, and particularly from individual financial bequests, have been supportive in acquiring work over the years and for these we are most grateful.
Helen Brown, Collections Manager and Curator of Fine Art
1The collection is the subject of a major catalogue, The de Ferrieres Collection, compiled by Christopher Wright (Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum, 1988).
Text source: PCF / Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum
This description was originally written for a catalogue.