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More about Great Yarmouth Museums

Today Great Yarmouth is known as a popular seaside resort, but in the nineteenth century its herring fishing and commercial industries were more important. It is therefore not surprising that the maritime heritage of Great Yarmouth is featured most prominently in the fine art collection at the museums within the Borough.

Great Yarmouth Museums’ art collection comprises that owned by the Borough and County Councils. The joint collection is managed by Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service. Subject matter is mostly topographical, marine and portraiture, which dates from the late eighteenth century to the present. The majority of the collections date from the early to mid-nineteenth century. This period witnessed the town’s major development and rise in prosperity as the largest herring fishing port in the world. Much of Yarmouth’s wealth, until the mid-twentieth century, was derived from fishing and export of cured herring in particular.

Great Yarmouth Museums’ art collections are displayed to the public at Time and Tide Museum of Great Yarmouth Life, the Elizabethan House Museum and the Great Yarmouth Borough Council Town Hall. The Tolhouse Museum previously housed the County Borough’s collection until April 1941 when it was bombed and much of the collection destroyed. The art collection was partly re-established with the assistance of the War Damages Fund. Today the Tolhouse Museum, Great Yarmouth, does not display or store any oil paintings.

The significant collection of marine pictures reflects Yarmouth’s unique position on the East Coast as a seaside holiday destination, North Sea offshore base and international trading port. The fishing boats that plied the North Sea and the fishermen unloading their catches on the beach attracted many artists to Great Yarmouth. They also found a wealth of subjects along the quaysides and in the town among the gates and towers of the mediaeval town walls, the unique narrow rows, and the historic Market Place. The collection includes works by notable Norwich School artists, including George Vincent (1796–1831), Alfred Stannard (1806–1889), Robert Ladbrooke (1770–1842) and William Joy (1803–1867). Many examples of Norwich School Artists’ work featuring Great Yarmouth illustrate the realism in their observations of both work and leisure in the town. Local scenes also illustrate how important Great Yarmouth’s coastline was as an inspiration to artists such as John Constable and J. M. W. Turner.

Many of the beach scenes in the Collection fall within a national trend embracing contemporary views of seaside resorts, such as Hastings and Brighton. Great Yarmouth differed from such places in that at the beginning of the nineteenth century the town was a thriving industrial centre and fishing port as well as an emerging middle-class seaside resort. Yarmouth Beach and Jetty were particularly popular subjects with locally-based artists in the nineteenth century.

James Steward, Museums Officer

Text source: PCF / Great Yarmouth Museums

This description was originally written for a catalogue.

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