Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery has a large and important fine art collection. With over 800 paintings, 3000 watercolours and drawings, over 5000 prints and small collections of sculpture and miniatures, it represents the largest fine art collection in Devon and Cornwall.
The works span the 16th to 21st centuries and include examples from a wide range of European schools. The vast majority are English and date from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The south west has a rich artistic heritage and this is reflected in the content of the collections. There are many works by prominent local artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, James Northcote, Samuel Prout, Charles Locke Eastlake and Benjamin Robert Haydon.
With its geographical connection to Cornwall there are many views of the region as a whole and of Cornwall, Plymouth and its environs in particular. This includes a large representation of work by artists of the 19th century Newlyn School, as well as good 20th century collections including works by the St Ives and Camden Town Groups.
Within the art collections, but retained as a separate entity is the Cottonian Collection. This designated collection 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. Together with a sizeable library of some two thousand tomes, this outstanding 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 until it was finally opened as a public collection in 1853. This was transferred to Plymouth Corporation in 1915/1916 by an Act of Parliament.
Take a closer look at some of the highlights in our collections.
The important and substantial collection of some 800 paintings covers a wide variety of national and international schools and periods.
Including a substantial number of Old Master drawings, topographical studies and 18th and 19th century English watercolours.
A very full history of the ‘print’ is demonstrated with examples from 16th century to contemporary, in a wide range of media.
Sculptures, Bronzes and Miniatures
This is a small collection comprising a small number of works from the 17th to 20th centuries. In terms of quality the most exceptional items are the 17th and 18th century European bronzes. There are a few sculptures from the late 19th and 20th centuries including two works by Jacob Epstein and a small marble by Barbara Hepworth. Also from the 19th century is a series of plaster works – statues, medallions and plaques cast from Antique and Renaissance originals. Finally, there are a small but attractive group of largely 18th and 19th century miniatures, including two by Richard Cosway.
There are also a series of fine art collections held within branch museums and Council buildings, which the Museum is responsible for.
The Museum acquired an important collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds paintings under the ‘Acceptance in Lieu’ scheme.
On the blog
Reynolds’ Self-Portrait (1746) and Sketchbook (1750-2) are of international importance and were acquired by private treaty, thanks to a £326,300 Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant and support from the Art Fund, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, and the Friends of Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery(FPCMAG).
Our volunteers shared their research of Reynolds beginnings here in the Plymouth area, their discoveries about the life and times of Plympton, Plymouth, and Plymouth Dock, Modern day Devonport, during the early to mid 1700s.
The ‘In the Frame’ exhibition featured works from the permanent collections, many of which are rarely seen. As part of this project, staff and volunteers researched paintings within the collection to try and reveal more about their history, to identify unknown sitters or attribute works to artists where this is currently unknown.