Salford Museum & Art Gallery has over 2,000 oil paintings, watercolours, drawings and prints in its collection. The artwork ranges mainly from the nineteenth century, to works by local artists and a small but strong twentieth century British collection.
Established in the former Lark Hill Mansion, the Royal Museum (as it was formerly called) contained Britain’s first unconditionally free public library. North and South Wings were added in the 1850s, the Langworthy Wing in 1878 and, upon demolition of the former mansion, the East Wing in 1939. The building is adjacent to Peel Park and is now Grade II listed.
Opened in 1850, the Museum was one of the first public museums to be established by a British local authority but, unlike other similar institutions, it did not inherit an existing collection but had to begin collecting from scratch. Its first artwork, a portrait of Peter Clare, the Manchester horologist, by Joseph William Allen, arrived in the same year.
With its initial ideal of ‘bringing the world to Salford’, the collections soon began to grow. Paintings, sculpture, fine and decorative arts, natural history, ethnography, archaeology, coins and science material were quickly assembled. The early years of Salford Museum were a huge success with visitor figures second only to the British Museum.
Paintings and sculptures were rapidly acquired by purchase and gift. Thomas Agnew, founder of the famous art dealers ‘Thomas Agnew & Sons’ and Mayor of Salford, was a major donor of paintings to the gallery. His family continued to donate to the Museum after his death with Edward William Cooke’s The Bay of Tangier, Morocco being a fine example. As well as featuring a splendid and dramatic view, the artist shows his knowledge of ships with the meticulous detail of the boat in the foreground. Cooke often worked from small studies made on the spot and had a marvellous eye for detail and feeling for composition. He travelled to Egypt and probably stopped for a while at Tangier in Morocco.
The Meeting of Esau and Jacob by George Frederick Watts, donated by the Manchester engineering company Mather and Platt, has been described as ‘one of the greatest pictures’. Painted with grand and heroic qualities, it shows the emotional reunion of the two Old Testament brothers following their bitter conflicts and jealousies.
Perhaps the most controversial painting in the Museum’s collection is John Charles Dollman’s Famine which receives both acclaim and unease in equal measures. Donated by James Gresham, an important Manchester collector, the painting features a tall emaciated figure advancing through a ravaged land pursued by hungry wolves and ravens, lit only by a bleak moon. Dollman apparently struggled to paint the hollow bodies of the wolves as the ones in the local zoo were too well fed. The painting is in stark contrast to the cosy and genial perception that is normally associated with late Victorian and Edwardian art.
In 1874, E. R. Langworthy, a cotton manufacturer and formerly Mayor and Member of Parliament for Salford, bequeathed £10,000 towards the construction of an extension to the Museum, the Langworthy Wing. Money left over was spent on paintings and sculptures including The Execution of the Marquis of Montrose and The Last Sleep of the Earl of Argyll both by Edward Matthew Ward. These two paintings had been intended for the Commons Corridor at the new palace of Westminster in London; however, due to problems with reflections on the canvas and the narrowness of the corridor, they were returned to the artist until bought by Salford. The former painting portrays the great military leader, Montrose, with bearing and fortitude, qualities that were to convert the watching hostile crowd to one displaying sympathy and respect. Two contrasting consciences are on display in the latter. While Argyll sleeps soundly, a visiting clergyman is clearly troubled by his own compliance with the court of James II.
The Queen of the Tournament by Phillip Hermogenes Calderon was donated in 1881 by Oliver Heywood. A local banker, Heywood sponsored many philanthropic causes including Manchester Mechanics’ Institute, Chetham’s Hospital, Manchester Grammar School and Owens College.
In 1936 Salford Museum acquired its first Lowry work A Street Scene: St Simon’s Church. Since then the collection has grown steadily and in 1958 a Lowry Gallery within the Museum, was established – then a unique tribute to a living artist. In 2000 the entire collection of over 300 works and archive material was transferred to The Lowry at Salford Quays.
George Clausen’s most important early work In the Orchard was purchased in 1948. It features many of the styles that were to dominate British rustic naturalist painting.
In the 1950s large parts of the city were disappearing due to demolition and Salford began to actively collect social history material. Such collecting at the time was virtually unknown and one result was the creation of Lark Hill Place, a period Victorian Street.
The small but significant collection of British Modern Art has been built up through, purchases and donations, especially through the Contemporary Art Society. Industrial Landscape by Prunella Clough is typical of her work on the industrial and urban landscape. Flowers in a Window by Ivon Hitchens portrays his naturalistic talent. Storm Clouds by David Bomberg shows his change in style following the First World War, when he started painting landscapes drawn from nature. The Chess Players by Roland Pitchforth is an example of his work in oils before he worked exclusively in watercolours. Duncan Grant’s productiveness is evident in The Bedside Lamp. The scene is Grant’s bedroom at Charleston showing curtains that he designed and a lampshade that he painted. This was the house he shared with Vanessa Bell, whose painting Arum and Tulips is also in the Salford collection.
Also of note are two oil paintings by a founder member of the Vorticist group and war artist for both world wars, William Roberts. The Control Room was based on the London Regional Defence Headquarters after Roberts was commissioned in January 1941 to paint a Civil Defence subject. Munitions Factory was commissioned by the Ministry of Information for a poster and is based on drawings made at the Woolwich Arsenal.
The Camden Town Group is represented through the paintings of Walter Sickert’s Reflected Ornaments and Charles Ginner’s Dwarf Sunflowers. The former also has connections with another artist in the Salford collection, Harry Rutherford, who was once a pupil of Sickert. The woman in Philip Wilson Steer’s painting, Woman Sewing is probably his favourite model, Rose Pettigrew, who features in many of his paintings.
The Museum also owns many local scenes by the renowned artist Harold Riley who was born and still lives in Salford. Riley was a student and friend of L. S. Lowry and together they painted many scenes of the Salford area. He is also known for his paintings of prominent people and sporting scenes.
From the 1960s material was collected from the coal mining industry and the Museum of Mining opened in 1980 in Buile Hill Park. These collections were eventually transferred to the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester; however, the mining art was retained by Salford and contains many significant artists of the genre including, Roger Hampson, Theodore Major and Josef Herman.
In the 1980s the most significant Victorian works were put on display in the Victorian Gallery when major building work provided new foyer, staircase and visitor amenities.
Peter N. Ogilvie, Collections Manager
Text source: PCF / Salford Museum & Art Gallery
This description was originally written for a catalogue.