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