Stunning collection unveiled

Stunning collection unveiled

30 November 2011

A CATALOGUE detailing how Down County Museum has built up one of the finest art collections of its kind was launched on Monday.

Art of Down: The Fine Art Collection of Down County Museum highlights the diversity and importance of the collection, which has been built up over the past 30 years and now totals over 300 works.

Comprising oils, watercolours, prints and sculpture, it is considered one of the finest art collections held in an Irish regional museum.

Researched and written by Dr. Eileen Black, former Curator of Art at the Ulster Museum, and Lesley Simpson, Keeper of Collections at Down Museum, it includes biographies of artists, details of each work and an extensive bibliography. Every piece is illustrated, with photographs taken by Allen Thompson, Peadar Curran and Bryan Rutledge.

The catalogue launch was accompanied by an exhibition of some of the most significant works in the collection, acquired since the museum first opened its doors in 1981. Acquired through gifts, bequests and purchases, the works relate in some way to County Down, whether landscapes, portraits or more abstract pieces, and are both historical and contemporary examples from the late 18th century onwards.

As well as the importance of the works of art themselves, there are fascinating stories associated with many of them.

A painting by Patric Stevenson, showing the Cathedral and Southwell School, started its life owned by Mr. and Mrs. Clint, who lived in a house adjacent to the museum. After Mr. Clint’s death, Mrs. Clint moved to England. The painting was sold at least twice before being purchased by the museum and returned to Downpatrick.

Lesley Simpson says that three of the Museum’s most significant paintings are of Edward Southwell and his first wife, Elizabeth, née Cromwell.

“The first of these to be purchased by the museum was one of Edward which came up for sale at an auction in England,” she said. “One of the museum’s contacts spotted it in a catalogue and the museum managed to acquire it. Listed at that time as ‘School of Mytens’, it is a very impressive portrait.

“Several years later, in 2000, the Museum was offered a second portrait of Edward and one of Elizabeth. Although these two were clearly intended as a pair the Museum did not have the funds to purchase both. The Art Fund and the Northern Ireland Museums Council assisted the purchase of the portrait of Lady Elizabeth while the Southwell Trust very kindly purchased the portrait of Edward, so that they could be kept and displayed together in Down County Museum.

“Now, as a result of her research, Dr. Black has attributed all three of these portraits to Sir Godfrey Kneller. Born in Germany, Kneller moved to London in 1676 and became the most renowned court and society portrait painter of his age. Discovering this enabled Down County Museum to raise grant aid so that the portrait of Edward could be purchased from the Southwell Trust.”

Ms. Simpson said that the museum was indebted to all those who helped to build up the collection, from local people and artists who gave works, to the many funders who assisted with grant aid.

“We are especially grateful to the Esmé Mitchell Trust, Friends of Down County Museum and the Northern Ireland Museums Council, who supported the catalogue publication,” she said.

The exhibition continues until Monday, December 19 and the Art of Down: The Fine Art Collection of Down County Museum is now on sale at the museum shop for £10.