Portsmouth Museums and Records Service was established in 1994 following the amalgamation of the separate Museums and Records Services. There has been a public museum service in Portsmouth since 1896. The original exhibits were drawn from heterogeneous municipal collections, which had accumulated over the centuries, supplemented by loans. The bulk of this collection was destroyed during the great air raid of 10th January 1941. Today’s collections have been built up over the last half-century by gift, loan and purchase.
The service now comprises six sites: Portsmouth City Museum & Records Office, D-Day Museum, Southsea Castle, Charles Dickens’ Birthplace Museum, Cumberland House Natural History Museum and Eastney Industrial Museum. Paintings are principally exhibited at the City Museum, although works from the collections can be found across many of the sites. Curatorial responsibility for the paintings has been subdivided between different sections of the service.
Paintings held by the Local History Section complement the general aim of the department to focus on the local and social history of Portsmouth. The collection consists of marine and topographical items, works by local artists and portraits of local people. Most of the works have been collected since 1945 following the bombing of the museum in 1941, although a small number did survive the destruction.
Given Portsmouth’s maritime history, it is unsurprising that the collection has a particular strength in representations of the harbour and shipping, particularly between 1800 and 1900. Included are well-known maritime artists such as Thomas Luny and William Callcott Knell. Works by contemporary maritime artists are collected to reflect the continued interest in this area.
Prominent marine artists, such as William Lionel Wyllie, are represented as well as local artists such as Edward R. King. The group of 83 works by King, a patient in the local mental hospital, St James’, are particularly interesting. Some are the result of a wartime commission by the city’s mayor, Sir Denis Daley, to record the destruction suffered during the severe air raids of 1940 and 1941. Others, of the environs of St James’, were painted after the war.
The group of paintings by Henry J. Morgan form a unique picture of the career of an individual naval officer, Admiral Giffard, and capture the dramatic changes taking place in ship technology. A small glimpse into another naval career can be gained in the wonderfully naive paintings by Colour Sergeant William Joy from ‘HMS Devastation’ which was on a mission to find the Indian murderers of two white men, as well as exercise a little ‘gunboat diplomacy’.
More recently, the Arthur Conan Doyle Richard Lancelyn Green Bequest has introduced another strand to the collection, with images relating to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his famous creation, Sherlock Holmes.
The Art Section was only established in 1968 as an individual section within the museums service and with its own specialist staff. Previously the Antiquities section (later the Local History Section) collected art on behalf of the service. Virtually all fine art works were lost in the bombing in 1941. After the war a decision was taken to concentrate postwar collecting in the area of ‘English Taste’ rather than to attempt to build up a representative art collection. An immediate appeal after the catastrophic losses brought a number of items into the collection, individuals and organisations donating items to rebuild Portsmouth’s collections. It is through this route that works by Walter Sickert and his circle were donated by the Sickert Trust and works by William Bruce Ellis Ranken were given by Mrs Ernest Thesiger.
Collecting has been most active in the decorative arts field but significant additions of paintings, prints and watercolours have been acquired since the war. Until 1992, primarily English art was being acquired. As far as relatively limited purchase funds allowed, national art movements were represented, and some work by international practitioners was acquired, due to their strong influences on British art.
The Art Section collection is richest in British art of the twentieth century. It has a significant collection of work by artists associated with the St Ives School such as Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Terry Frost, Patrick Heron, Alfred Wallis and Bryan Wynter. Other artists and makers of this group are represented by watercolours, prints and ceramics.
Another strength is in work by artists of the Bloomsbury Group. Portsmouth has tried to link the fine art collection with the decorative wherever possible by acquiring works that span the disciplines. In this connection, painted furniture by Vanessa Bell, Dora Carrington and Duncan Grant have been major acquisitions. The works by the three artists listed above were all significant commissions at the time of their creation, adding contextual interest to their artistic status.
Strong emphasis has been placed upon acquiring works by artists who were born in the Portsmouth area and who have trained locally or have lived or worked in the area. Work by artists who had other strong associations with the Portsmouth area has also been acquired wherever possible. In this category works by the Cole family – George, George Vicat and Reginald Rex Vicat were acquired. For more recent art practice, work produced by students and tutors at the University of Portsmouth and its predecessor bodies has been a strong theme. Paintings within the ambit of the PCF catalogue in this category come from the artists Derek Boshier, Jessie Brown, Geoff Catlow, John Eatwell, Alan Jefferson, Kevin O’Connor and Garrick Palmer amongst others.
Apart from the gifts given in response to the wartime losses, a number of significant gifts and bequests have enriched the collections. A couple of bequests from local artists Ada Dumas and her friend Eleanor Spyers not only brought examples of their own work but internationally important work, in a variety of different mediums, for example, works by the artist Paul Bril. The daughter of artist Benjamin Haughton (1865–1924) gave 330 works by her father. These are mostly oil paintings and oil sketches of the more remote areas of Kent, Somerset and Devon he loved so much.
Grant aid from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council Purchase Fund (in its various manifestations) has helped fund many of our purchases. Grant aid and gifts from the Art Fund and the Contemporary Art Society have also added significant items to our collections over the years. In many cases generous grants have enabled us to purchase works but other items have been given by national bodies. The Contemporary Art Society Presentation Scheme has added oils by Justin Knowles, William George Scott and Gary Wragg. The Art Fund has also donated work attributed to such notable artists such as Maerten Fransz. van der Hulst, Adam Elsheimer and Guido Cagnacci.
The Military History Section came into being with the opening of the D-Day Museum in 1984, and one of its main concerns is therefore all aspects of the 1944 Normandy Landings and the subsequent Battle of Normandy. This section also covers the history of Southsea Castle (built on the orders of Henry VIII in 1544) and other aspects of Portsmouth’s military history.
The Military History Section administers only a small number of paintings, mainly depicting events in Normandy in 1944 and painted decades later. A number of the paintings in the Local History Section also reflect Portsmouth’s military past. For example, the Local History Section includes many depictions of Southsea Castle and other local fortifications, as well as Edward King’s paintings of the bomb damage on the city during the Second World War.
The Schools Loan Collection was established as a working collection of original and reproduction specimens and artefacts for educational use. Its collections are lent out to schools in the Portsmouth area providing a valuable outreach tool to support the national curriculum and as a source of inspiration. The collection literally covers subjects from A to Z – art to zoology. The art section of this collection includes original items of decorative art and craft work as well as artists’ prints, drawings and paintings. The oil or acrylic paintings are mostly by modern and contemporary British artists, many of whom have a connection with South East Hampshire and West Sussex.
An established system is in place to feed items into the main art collections of the service from the Schools Loan Collection. After being available on loan for five years, an item may be transferred from the Schools Loan Collection to the art collection and formally accessioned into the core collections of the service. That works by such artists as Prunella Clough, Carel Victor Morlais Weight, Orovida Camille Pissarro and Patrick Heron have been transferred to the permanent art collection is a tribute to inspired purchasing by this section in earlier years. A large number of artists’ works remain in the collection and are regularly lent out to schools.
Reduced funding for acquisitions has had an impact on our active collecting, but whenever possible our service seeks to extend the existing collection by purchasing or accepting gifts of work that fit our collecting policy. Portsmouth can be proud that such a rich and diverse collection of paintings has been built up since the devastating wartime losses, providing a valuable resource for the people of Portsmouth and visitors to the city.
Rosalinda Hardiman, Museums Collections Manager
Text source: PCF / Portsmouth Museums and Records Service
This description was originally written for a catalogue.
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