The Reading Museum Service collection includes over 6,000 two- and three-dimensional works of art, of which over 400 are oil paintings. The basis of the art collection is a large group of nineteenth-century British oil paintings and watercolours given to the Museum in the 1890s by William Isaac Palmer. Subsequently, other late nineteenth-century works have been acquired, including paintings by Charles Burton Barber, John Bagnold Burgess and George Housman Thomas.
As might be expected, the Collection includes many paintings and sculptures of individuals associated with the history of Reading and Berkshire. One of the earliest portraits is a fine sixteenth-century panel painting of Elizabeth I which formed part of the Civic Collection long before the Museum was established. The Collection also includes topographic works describing Reading and Berkshire from the seventeenth century to today.
Artists who have lived in Reading and the region (about 25 miles around Reading) are well represented. Notable amongst these are a large collection of works by William Havell and the Havell family of nineteenth-century Reading artists. There are also twentieth-century artists of national and international standing such as Stanley and Gilbert Spencer and John Piper. Works by less well-known local artists, both professional and amateur are well represented.
Between 1970 and 1990 the Museum actively built a collection of twentieth-century British Art produced between the First and Second World Wars, and then began expanding to cover British Art from 1900 onwards. For example, there are significant works (not all in oils and therefore not necessarily listed in this publication) from between the wars by Eric Ravilious, David Bomberg and Eric Kennington; earlier works by Duncan Grant, Robert Bevan and Spencer Gore and more recent work by William Roberts, Prunella Clough, Mary Fedden and Stephen Buckley. The Collection includes an interesting group of Modern Scottish paintings by artists such as Joan Eardley and David Michie.
The Museum has a small number of works from Europe, which have been given by local people, including two fine sixteenth-century Italian oil paintings and a Swiss landscape attributed to Alexander Calame.
The great majority of works collected have been donated and today the Museum relies on gifts or grants from bodies such as the Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund. In addition, the Reading Foundation for Art (a local charity set up in 1972 to collect art for the town), has acquired works to be cared for and used by the Museum. The Museum has also been given works through The Art Fund and the Contemporary Art Society. The Museum is currently collecting work that is connected to the region around Reading, particularly contemporary work, and is also collecting small-scale sculpture with or without the local connection.
Besides oil paintings the Museum’s Collection contains a wide variety of mostly British artworks ranging from watercolours, drawings and prints, to sculpture and craft objects. Highlights include major collections of tin-glazed earthenware, from Delftware to the lustreware of Alan Caiger-Smith; decorated Romanesque stones from Reading Abbey; sculptural stonework from the Roman town of Calleva; a nineteenth-century embroidered full-scale copy of the Bayeux Tapestry; a significant group of textiles and ceramics from the 1970s and the archive of the British sculptor John Tweed including two sculptures by Auguste Rodin.
Elaine Blake, Curator of Art and Historic World Objects
Text source: PCF / Reading Museum
This description was originally written for a catalogue.
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