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How many regional public collections in Britain can claim to hold works by Constable and Turner, and Frank Stella and Alexander Calder? Plus Hogarth, Gainsborough, William Blake, Walter Sickert and Wyndham Lewis? Brighton & Hove Museums’ fine art collection ranges from late 15th century woodcuts, through old masters of all the major European schools, to key 20th century works informed by New York's abstract expressionists. This remarkable collection contains nearly 1,500 oil paintings, 4,000 watercolours and drawings, and well over 10,000 prints. It also includes topographical material on the history of Brighton & Hove, and prized Chinese export watercolours and oil paintings.
The collection dates back to 1851, a year after Brighton Corporation took control of the Royal Pavilion. An annual exhibition was organised, the proceeds of which helped assemble a permanent collection. After temporary residence within the Royal Pavilion, a new Museum and Art Gallery was opened on Church Street in 1873, featuring one of the earliest purpose-built municipal picture galleries in the country. In 1903, further exhibition galleries were opened.
New paintings were either purchased or donated in a series of generous bequests. One such was Henry Willett’s gift in 1903 of nearly 60 pictures. Among its treasures was The Raising of Lazarus by Jan Lievens, which had once hung in the home of Rembrandt. Another bequest was that of Paul Heyer, Brighton resident turned New York architect who, in 1997, left eleven major works of 20th century American art in his will. In the same year, the collection was integrated with that of Hove Museum & Art Gallery, which had acquired a significant collection by artists of the Camden Town School and paintings by the likes of Hilda Carline, Duncan Grant and Gilbert Spencer.
As well as the Lievens masterpiece, this collection boasts many notable works from the period, led by the Dutch school. These include oils by Nicolaes Maes, Esaias van de Velde and Rembrandt’s pupil Jan Victors.
This collection of 18th century portraiture and history painting features a number of key works. They include: Johann Zoffany’s John Maddison and Angelica Kauffmann’s Penelope at Her Loom, plus works by Hogarth, Gainsborough and a late tempera painting by William Blake.
The early 19th century was to define Brighton. J M W Turner and John Constable captured its transformation on canvas and they are represented here alongside Dutch-born classicist Alma-Tadema, English Romantic painter Samuel Palmer, French realist Rosa Bonheur, and Scottish genre painter Thomas Faed. The service also holds the pre-eminent collection of prints, drawings and caricatures relating to the Prince Regent (later King George IV) and the Royal Pavilion.
This collection ranges from works influenced by post impressionism to major late 20th century works from across the Atlantic. Examples of the former include Robert Bevan’s The Cabyard at Night, Harold Gilman’s The Coral Necklace; and Charles Ginner’s Leicester Square. The latter features pieces by Frank Stella, Larry Poons and Jules Olitski, part of the Heyer bequest of British and American paintings and sculpture from the 1970s and 1980s. Other highlights include one of the finest public collections of Glyn Philpot, and works by Walter Sickert, Vanessa Bell, Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland, Jacob Epstein, Eric Gill and Stanley Spencer.
At Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, three spaces are dedicated to displaying works from the fine art collection. The Prints & Drawings gallery houses displays which are changed every six months or so. The Paintings gallery is changed every two years. The Heyer gallery houses the Heyer Bequest and the 20th Century gallery displays a mixed collection of representational pictures which complement the decorative art on display.
Paintings, drawings and sculpture from the collections can also be seen at Hove Museum & Art Gallery and Preston Manor.
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