This outstanding art collection, with Designated status, was assembled by Charles Rogers FRS FSA (1711 to 1784) and presents a fascinating glimpse into the achievements of an 18th century English connoisseur.
It contains small groups of ceramics, bronzes and paintings, several hundred Old Master and English drawings and watercolours, and a substantial body of several thousand fine and rare prints. Though it is within the art collection, it is retained as a separate entity.
Together with a sizeable library of some two thousand tomes, this collection is of international importance. Initiated in the late 1740s by Charles Rogers, who amassed a substantial quantity of prints and drawings, it was passed through three successive generations of the Cotton family.
It was gifted ‘… for the purposes of amusement and instruction by the inhabitants of the Towns of Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport and their vicinity… ‘ in 1852 by William Cotton MA FSA (1794 to 1863). It finally opened as a public Collection in 1853 and was later transferred to Plymouth Corporation in 1915/1916 by an Act of Parliament.
The Cottonian Collection was designated in 1998, as a recognised collection of national importance. This scheme is administered by Arts Council England.
Find out more about the collection’s contents and history on our mini-site.
There are approximately three hundred drawings and watercolours from the 16th to 18th centuries.
The items of furniture include the fine bookcases especially commissioned to house the library and an Italian collector's cabinet.
Around 2000 volumes covering all manner of subject matter from history and archaeology, literature and the arts including many illustrated books.
There are 22 oil paintings in the Cottonian Collection including a number of works by Reynolds.
Some 6,000 or so prints of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries are contained within the Cottonian Collection, grouped largely by school or subject and mounted in a series of large volumes.
Take a closer look at some of the highlights in our collections.
On the blog
Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery was awarded £49,945 from the Arts Council England’s Designation Development Fund to carry out some much needed research and conservation work on the historic furniture. Find out about the work involved.
Plymouth’s Greatest Gift was a project that was run during 2013-14 by a group of students from Plymouth University, in collaboration with Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, to rediscover the Cottonian Collection. Find out about the research, events and new interpretation they were involved in.