Tameside Museums and Galleries Service consists of six different sites, three of which are art galleries. The Service manages three collections: social history, military history and finally the Astley Cheetham Art Collection.
The Astley Cheetham Art Collection was originally bequeathed to the town of Stalybridge by the Victorian industrialist and mill owner John Frederick Cheetham after his death in 1932.
The Collection comprises over 500 works of art, including works on paper and a small selection of sculptures. It is well-known as an excellent small regional collection and includes works from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as well as by nineteenth-century British painters such as David Cox the elder and Edward Burne-Jones. The Collection has grown with gifts from the National Art Collections Fund, the Contemporary Art Society and purchases by the Gallery throughout the twentieth century.
The Cheetham family’s wealth came from John Frederick Cheetham’s grandfather, George Cheetham, who established his own mill, Bankside. Due to his success the next generations were able to pursue their social and political interests.
John Frederick Cheetham’s father, John Cheetham, was an avid collector of art, acquired on his extensive foreign travels. It is perhaps due to his collecting habits that the Astley Cheetham Art Collection has an internationally important, albeit small, collection of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italian icons. Of particular interest is Jacopo di Cione’s Madonna and Child with Angels, 1350–1400. This central panel of an altarpiece has since been cut and mounted in a nineteenth-century frame.
Another icon of interest is the Master of the Straus Madonna’s Virgin and Child with Angels and Saints. This small panel depicts the Virgin and Child with angels and on the left St John the Baptist and St Dorothy, and St Julian the Hospitaller on the right. Below the Virgin’s feet lies Eve draped in a translucent material clutching a miniature of the Tree of Knowledge. The artist was named Master of the Straus Madonna after a Virgin and Child painting, which once belonged to the art collector Percy S. Straus and is now held at the Museum of Fine Art, Houston. The Florentine artist had a penchant for elaborate decorations and shared stylistic traits with Masolino.
John Frederick Cheetham was born in 1835. His father’s interest in travel may have inspired John Frederick to also spend several years travelling as far as India and the Himalayas, as well as yearly trips to the Alps. We know from his own sketches, some from early childhood, that he was an accomplished amateur artist with a keen eye for architectural details.
In 1887, Cheetham married Beatrice Emma Astley. She was the sister of Mrs A. W. Nicholson, Lady of the Manor of Dukinfield. She was also the great-granddaughter of successful society portrait painter John Astley who had married Lady Daniel Dukinfield. His son Francis Dukinfield-Astley was a businessman with great interest in coal-mining, leaving Beatrice financially secure.
John Frederick and Beatrice funded the Astley Cheetham Library. The building was opened on 14th January 1901. The room which now houses the Astley Cheetham Art Gallery was originally used for public lectures, funded by a donation from John Frederick’s elder sister Mrs Ellen Barnes.
The family was to bestow another gift on Stalybridge. As the couple had no children, when John Frederick Cheetham passed away in 1916 most of his estate was settled between Beatrice and John Frederick’s sister Agnes Cheetham, who was still living at the family home Eastwood House. Beatrice continued to live in Bournemouth, where the couple had built another Dukinfield Lodge, outliving her husband by seven years. Frederick Cheetham had stipulated that upon her death, everything, including the land and the house accommodating the art collection, was to be bequeathed to the Stalybridge Corporation. Agnes passed away in 1931 aged 99, at the time the oldest living resident in Stalybridge.
Tameside Museums and Galleries Service continues to collect art for the Astley Cheetham Art Collection with a focus on art relevant to Tameside, and art which compliments work already in the Collection.
Being a part of The Public Catalogue Foundation’s project has enabled us to make this stunning regional Collection available to a much larger audience. The Public Catalogue Foundation has raised awareness of the Collection and for this we are grateful.
Marie Holland, Curator of Art
Text source: PCF / Tameside Museums and Galleries Service: The Astley Cheetham Art Collection
This description was originally written for a catalogue.