The Art Gallery


Until 1884, the townspeople of Wolverhampton had no opportunity to see a permanent display of art, unless it was in the privacy of their own homes, but even this applied only to a privileged few. There had been, as early as 1839 a Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition, an idea which was also repeated in 1869. However, in 1881, ideals of public instruction and good works prompted the setting up of a fund for the building of an Art Gallery. On November 7th, the Mayor received an anonymous letter offering 5000 pounds towards the fund. The name of the donor was not revealed until the opening of the gallery, when it was found to be Mr. Philip Horsman. The site was presented by the Council to the Trustees and Mr. Horsman paid the total cost of the building, which amounted to 8500 pounds.

The main problem was how to fill the Gallery. An appeal was launched and when the Art Gallery opened, some fifteen pictures had been donated. however, as it had been decided to hold another Fine Art and Industrial exhibition in conjuction with the official opening, these were not shown until the following year.

For the Opening Ceremony in May 1884, every available building in the town was decorated with bunting and Venetian masts were erected outside St. Peter's. Suspended between the masts were flags of crimson cloth with heraldic shields of the town. The Art section of the exhibition was held in a temporary building erected in Wulfruna Street. Lord Wrottesley opened the Gallery, using a gold key which had been presented by Chubb and Sons Lock and Safe Co. Ltd.

It was not until 1885, that the Art Gallery was opened to the public in the capacity it is today. This was after the completion of the School of Art, which was built, connected to the rear of the Gallery and which was opened in July 1885. Four months earlier, in March 1885, provision of 184 pounds per annum had been made for the Art Gallery, from the penny rate, levied under the Public Libraries Act. In 1887, the Wolverhampton Corporation Act allowed for this to be increased and a higher rate was levied to defray expenses.

Over the years, the collection at the Art Gallery has grown through the generosity of people's donations and the purchase of works by public money, usually a time for much public debate. In addition to the permanent collection here are loan exhibitions about once month, plus local exhibitions, a feature of the Gallery's calendar since 1885.

The School of Art, originally run in conjunction with the Art Gallery, became a separate entity in 1945, when it was also granted College status. In 1969, a new building was completed to house the Art College and at the same time it became incorporated into the Wolverhampton Polytechnic (now University). In 1984, the School of Art building was returned to the Art Gallery and there are plans to open a Local History Gallery as soon as Possible.


Designed by Julius Chatwin nf Birmingham and built by Horsman and Co., the building is of Italianate design and is built in Bath stone. it is approached by a flight of steps under a portico supported by six red granite columns. The facades on the ground floor are in the Doric style and those on the upper storey, the Ionic style. The upper storey has no windows and is decorated by panels of Portland stone, sculpted in relief by Mr. Boulton of Cheshire.

Facing Lichfield 5treet there are sixteen figures representing sculpture and painting at various stages and periods. Along St. Peter's Close there are eighteen figures repre5enting several of the sciences, including architecture, astronomy and navigation. Along the top of the building runs a stone balustrade supported by columns standing at the end of the figures.

The interior of the Art Gallery is spacious. On the ground floor there are four roams housing Contemporary art, Oriental art and two rooms for special exhibitions. On the upper floor there are also four rooms containing an art collection of mostly 18th and 19th Century oils.

Return to the
previous page