Warwickshire Museum Sevice's collection of 44 oil paintings is a social record of Warwickshire’s communities and special places. Contained within it are fascinating insights into the lives of prominent and other less well-known individuals.
We can find in these paintings both information and a starting point for telling stories. ‘Wallace’ the Lion attributed to Alexander F. Rolfe is displayed in our Under 5s Discovery Room at St John’s House Museum. Rather than examining the artist’s style, we’re told the incredible stories of ‘Wallace’ and ‘Nero’, two lions brought to Warwick in the early nineteenth century, which may have been the inspiration for the painting.
A number of works in the Collection deserve particular mention for their artistic and historical importance. The portrait of Ralph Sheldon by Hieronymous Custodis, hanging in the Market Hall Museum, is a fine example of sixteenth-century portraiture. Sheldon inherited from his father the Barcheston tapestry works where the famous tapestry maps, including our own vast map of Warwickshire, were woven.
The painting Study of Edward Bolton King (1800–1878), MP for Warwick by George Hayter, was produced as part of Hayter’s preparations for his remarkable work The Reformed House of Commons, now in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Our study is one of over 300 that Hayter made from life, of the MPs sitting in that first Parliament following the passage of the Great Reform Bill in 1832. It was purchased for the Museum in 1986.
Other important purchases include three portraits by the Scottish painter Allan Ramsay, purchased in 1974 with the help of the National Art Collections Fund. All are signed and dated 1749, and show three members of one prominent local family then living at Arlescote, Warwickshire: Dr John Ward, Mrs Abigail Ward and Timothy Godwin.
The vast majority of works of art, however, were given to the Museum by local people as a means of remembering loved ones and preserving memories. We continue to hold these paintings in trust for future generations. While most of the Collection is currently not on display, the paintings can be viewed by appointment, and we hope that the achievement of photographing them for this catalogue will prove a stimulus to providing greater access in the longer term.
The act of photographing a painting can help us see it in new and sometimes unexpected ways. Through the photographers’ lens we can see the artist’s skill with even greater clarity: suddenly the quilting and delicate buttons of Ralph Sheldon’s doublet take on a new brilliance. We are grateful to The Public Catalogue Foundation, their staff and photographers, for allowing our Collection to shine through in this way.
Helen Maclagan, Head of Heritage and Culture (Museums)
Text source: PCF / Warwickshire Museum Service
This description was originally written for a catalogue.