Virtual reality and Archives? Maybe not so far away – indeed, maybe right here in Brum in the Waterhall of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery!
An intriguing exhibition, Thresholds, curated by Pete James and Matt Collishaw enables you to experience the exhibition of William Fox Talbot’s photogenic drawings at the Annual Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held in Birmingham at King Edward’s School, New Street in August 1839.
Charles Barry’s drawings of Birmingham Free Grammar School on New Street, Birmingham, 1833.
[MS 575 Acc 2012/013]
Put on the headset and backpack and you’re standing in the school hall, can view the drawings in display cases – and even lift them to look closer, feel the fire, hear and see the Chartist protestors outside the window – amazing. Chartist riots had taken place in the Bull Ring just a few weeks before and Fox Talbot requested that the Birmingham Literary and Philosophical Society acquire the display cases in order to protect his drawings from possible protestors.
I recently visited Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to see the free exhibition ‘Turning to See: From Van Dyck to Lucian Freud. Curated by John Stezaker’, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Drawing by Gregory Watt of a painting of a man’s head by Van Dyck, nd. c. 1793
[MS 3219/7/Part 3/48]
On display were an array of portraits by a variety of famous names in art history.
The exhibition’s centrepiece is Anthony van Dyck’s masterly last self-portrait purchased for the nation in 2014. Inspired by what I had seen, I wanted to find out whether Archives and Collections at the Library of Birmingham holds any material relating to the artists featured in the exhibition.
Anthony van Dyck via Gregory Watt
We had such a busy end to 2015 here at the Iron Room that it was only recently we realised we had forgotten Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s 130th birthday!
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Birmingham has had its own art gallery since 1867, housed in a room in the Free Library building. From 1877 the room was needed for other purposes and the exhibits were moved to a temporary home, first in Paradise Street and then to Aston Hall. Falling under the remit of the Free Libraries Committee, they were forced to consider the building of a permanent home in the town centre.
The importance of a permanent collection was advocated strongly by brothers George and Richard Tangye (from a prominent Quaker family) in a letter to John Thackray Bunce, then chairman of the Art Gallery Sub-Committee:
“In common with many others, we have long been sensible of the great loss the town sustains in the absence of an adequate Art Collection…We cannot but think if the town and the Council were duly impressed with the vast importance of such a Collection to the trades of the town, the present apathy on the subject would soon cease to exist. It is all very well for critics to exclaim against Birmingham manufacturers and artisans because of their inferiority to their foreign competitors in the matter of design and manufacturers ; but what chances have they of improving in these respects? South Kensington is practically as far away as Paris or Munich, while our competitors on the Continent, in almost every manufacturing town, have access to collections embracing the finest examples of Art, furnishing an endless variety of style and design… – if the Council will agree to make provisions for a permanent Art Gallery, on a scale really commensurate with the necessities of Birmingham, we shall have pleasure in handing over £5,000 to the Free Libraries Committee towards the purchase of Art for exhibition in the gallery….if the gift is met by adequate donations…we will give a further £5,000 for the above-named purpose, making £10,000 in all.”
The Tangye brothers went on to state that while they had brought significant trade to Birmingham, they had also benefited greatly from it and it was their desire to give something back to the town. Continue reading