Manchester Art Gallery

Work: Behind the Scenes

Working from home has given many of us a chance to review what work means to us.

It’s not bad working from home. But sometimes the disconnect from the wider world feels too great. I was just at that point a fortnight ago when out of the blue came a friendly email from Alice Strang, a curator whose work will be well-known to anyone interested in Modern Scottish Painting (Google her – you’ll see) Furloughed and at a loose end, Alice was offering her insight into works in our collection. Rather than ask her to write away in isolation, we thought it would be useful to get her perspective on some questions we have been asking ourselves recently on the subject of Work. We are going to put these same questions up here on our website soon, to widen this conversation. But in the meantime, here’s Alice’s thought-provoking and refreshing  perspective.

Hannah Williamson, Fine Art Curator.

How does work relate to time?

The time-consuming creative process involved in making Long Brown of 1966 by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004) is clear, despite its modest size of 44.3 x 13.9cm. The textured surface ripples before our eyes as similarly-sized brown squares cluster and course across it. Sometimes closely tessellated, at others placed on a diagonal with corners touching, space between the squares expands and contracts in parallel with an ebb and flow of abstract emotion, from repression to freedom. Subtle variations in tone, shot through with areas of bare canvas, are equally disciplined and provide a further layer of movement. The elongated format has precedents in Japanese scrolls and Egyptian hieroglyphics, in which non-Western symbols can also be understood on a purely formal basis. Long Brown is a painting as much about the work and time involved in its realisation as about the effort required of the viewer to understand and appreciate it. It was purchased for the collection in 1967, shortly after it was completed.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham was born in St Andrews, Fife in 1912. She studied at Edinburgh College of Art before moving to Cornwall in 1940, where she became a member of what is now known as the St Ives School. A pioneer of British abstraction, after inheriting a house outside St Andrews in 1960, Barns-Graham straddled the Scottish and English art worlds before her death in 2004.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004), Long Brown, 1966 © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004) Long Brown, 1966
© Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

Who and what do we value?

Mater Dolorosa of 1958 by Robert Colquhoun (1914-62) is a referential painting of the Virgin Mary grieving after the death of Christ. It pays homage to universal notions of maternal care and responsibility. The title means ‘sorrowful mother’ and the subject is portrayed at the base of the crucifix on which her son died, her bowed head supported by her left hand. Set in a shallow picture space and severely simplified, the anatomy of body and clothing are given equal status. Flat colour fields are enlivened by the barest suggestion of volume and shadow, concentrated on the emotional centre of Mary’s face. The pain of the loss of a child, reared, loved and supported, a source of concern, pride and companionship are described in her inconsolable expression and tragic experience of the bittersweet mother-son relationship. Mater Dolorosa was a gift from the Contemporary Art Society in 1962.

Robert Colquhoun was born in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire. He studied at Glasgow School of Art where he met Robert MacBryde (1913-66), with whom he lived and worked for the rest of his life. The ‘Two Roberts’, as they were known, had considerable success in London during and immediately after World War Two, including in the sphere of theatre set and costume design. However, ill-health and hard living took their toll on their creativity before Colquhoun’s death in 1962.

Robert Colquhoun (1914-62), Mater Dolorosa, 1958 © The Artist’s Estate

Robert Colquhoun (1914-62) Mater Dolorosa, 1958
© The Artist’s Estate

How does work shape identity?

A Cornish Fishwife of 1904 by Flora Macdonald Reid (1861-1938) embodies the notion of work shaping identity. An elderly woman is seen, harbourside, preparing a skate for sale. Her right-hand grips a knife with a determination at odds with the resigned expression on her face. The title refers not only to her job but also to her personal status as partner of a fisherman, in a community where personal and professional responsibilities are inseparable. Boats with hoisted sails lead the eye to buildings lit by sunshine which does not reach the subject’s workbench; seen towards the end of a harsh working life, she is at once dignified and resigned. The painting was purchased from the gallery’s twenty-first Autumn Exhibition in 1904, the year in which it was made.

Flora Macdonald Reid was born in London to Scottish parents. She trained at Edinburgh School of Art [NB not the later Edinburgh College of Art] and received lessons from her better-known brother John Robertson Reid (1851-1926). On returning to the English capital, she embarked on an international career, exhibiting from Glasgow to Paris and travelling extensively in France, Belgium and Norway; she lived in Cornwall for ten years. Although neither her technique nor subject matter are modern, as a successful woman artist Reid was a pioneer in her profession.

Flora Macdonald Reid (1861-1938), A Cornish Fishwife, 1904

Flora Macdonald Reid (1861-1938) A Cornish Fishwife, 1904

What’s the meaning of vocation?

William Strang’s 1912 portrait of John Masefield (1878-1967) shows the poet and writer aged thirty-four. Despite recent and considerable professional success, not least being awarded the Edmond de Polignac Prize that year, Masefield is presented as contemplative rather than triumphant. His sympathetically realised face is illuminated in an otherwise shadowy setting. His shapeless brown jacket merges with the background and his clasped hands are roughly described in his lap. The focus is on the sitter’s cerebral rather than physical abilities. The challenges Masefield overcame to follow his literary vocation, or calling, began with being orphaned before he was ten years old and years of unskilled, manual jobs in New York. Persistence paid off and by 1902, Masefield’s poems and novels began to be published, finding a ready readership. This portrait was purchased in 1930, co-inciding with Masefield’s appointment as Poet Laureate, a position he maintained until his death in 1967.

William Strang was born in Dumbarton and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. Celebrated for his skills as an etcher, he was also an accomplished portraitist. He was a founder member of the Royal Society of Painter Etchers and National Portrait Society in 1880 and 1911 respectively. Strang showed his work internationally, including in Vienna and New York and was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1921, the year of his death.

William Strang (1859-1921), John Masefield, 1912

William Strang (1859-1921) John Masefield, 1912

Alice Strang, 29 June 2020

About the author

Alice Strang is an award-winning art historian and curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.
Twitter @AliceStrang
Instagram @alice.strang


The Derek Jarman Pocket Park

Derek Jarman sought solace in creating a garden on Dungeness, an inhospitable part of the South coast, and taught himself how to plant and encourage flora and fauna to grow in a challenging landscape. He created the garden at a difficult stage in his life, when he had been diagnosed with AIDS and at a time when there was little hope of managing the illness and prolonging his life. The garden became central to his art, filmmaking, writing and life and continues to be a source of inspiration for artists, writers and gardeners.

Inspired by creativity

We wanted to take inspiration from the creativity inherent in the garden and think about how we could connect it to what we were doing in Manchester for the Protest! exhibition.

We’re working in partnership with artist Juliet Davis-Dufayard and Pride in Ageing, a group of advocates working with the LGBT Foundation to ensure that Greater Manchester becomes one of the best places for LGBT+ people to grow older.

The garden will be a place for reflection and activity as part of the gallery’s programme of activities for community groups, families and schools.

Thanks to funding from Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Pocket Parks, and the Postcode Local Trust, the partners will develop a community focussed, creative project with the five ways to wellbeing at its core: to connect; be active; take notice; learn something new and give. The long term aim is for the garden to be a place for reflection and activity as part of the gallery’s programme of activities for community groups, families and schools.

Once we emerge from the current crisis, it will be wonderful to have such a celebratory, creative project to work on, that will develop, bloom and grow before the eyes of Manchester’s residents and commuters. Over time the garden will support Manchester Art Gallery’s vision that is based on the importance of us learning to use art to achieve real social impact. It will eventually become a new outdoor space for the gallery to develop new programmes of discussion and debate, words and music created by the people of Manchester. It’s a long way from Dungeness and of course much less solitary, but we hope Derek would approve.

Photography: Howard Sooley

Supported by

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When are we reopening?

This week’s Government announcement that museums and galleries can reopen from 4 July is welcome news. We’ve very much missed being open and can’t wait to welcome people back, but it’s important to us that we manage the re-opening in a way that ensures our visitors and staff feel safe. We’re looking at how we can begin a phased re-opening of the gallery at some point over the summer.

We want to get things right and are planning for how we can best do this to ensure gallery goers get the most from their visit when we re-open. We’ll keep you posted on progress and of course, welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Black Lives Matter

Around the world people are demonstrating their outrage at the killing of George Floyd and with other cultural institutions we join in condemning racist oppression and violence. Like millions of others we have taken to social media, to observe #blackouttuesday, to take time to think about our position and to participate in providing a space for the amplification of black voices.

Deeds not words

Museums have a great convening power, to bring people together to share, exchange and create positive forms of culture and connecting

As civic and public art institutions founded in the nineteenth century we need to do this with care and consideration. Our roots, and those of our city, are entangled with colonialism and capitalism, our prosperity built on manufacture, trade and empire – and this resonates today. We understand that it is critical to acknowledge and address structural racism,  and show solidarity with local and global communities that are subject to racial inequality and discrimination. Yet we also know that actions speak louder than words – we must make practical and tangible contributions to change.

So what can an art museum do in this respect, beyond the symbolic?

Speaking up and speaking out

Both the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery have been working to decolonise and de-modernise the narrative of our collections and exhibitions. Recently, we have been inviting and supporting a wide range of constituents to use the museum to speak up and out to others and to provide space for a multitude of voices and experiences. Exhibitions such as Beyond Faith, Bodies of Colour, Four Corners of One Cloth and The Reno at the Whitworth; Speech Acts, Waqas Khan, Sonia Boyce and our new project with Jade Montserrat and INIVA here at Manchester Art Gallery are some examples of how we are trying to be part of the conversation and actively contribute to change.

We have also been updating our collecting policies – in our collecting today, we are working to rectify the historic imbalance between white male artists and other artists who have been side-lined. We want to collect art that is representative of all our communities, and this means continually educating ourselves and listening to a diversity of voices.

Getting together and getting things done

Museums have a great convening power, to bring people together to share, exchange and create positive forms of culture and connecting, but beyond this we also need action. This work is wider-ranging but as a whole starts to build a head of steam that does more than create cultural capital for institutions. It starts to shift policy and practice in the wider world. This is operational stuff; creating a new curriculum for schools across the city that works for everyone; working with artists such as Suzanne Lacy and Imran Peretta to give voice and agency to youth; offering up the gallery spaces for groups to use for their own ends and means; changing policy in employment and access; supporting political and activist art internationally; working with our colleagues in the University and third sector to address health inequality amongst ethnic minority communities; fostering cohesion and building bridges of cultural understanding through the School of Integration.

There is a long way to go, but I hope that through collective action not just our museums will be transformed, but that the world on our doorstep will be as well.

Alistair Hudson, Director, the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery


Ways You Can Help

Educate Yourself. This Doesn’t Go Away Once The Topic Isn’t, “Trending.”

Ways you can help, A resource linking to maps of protests, ways to donate, FAQs and further reading.

Revealing Histories

How much did Manchester profit from Slavery? This website from 2007 uses objects in museum collections to unravel the connections and reveal the local stories.

Future Collect : Jade Montserrat

Future Collect is a three-year programme which partners with national and regional museums and galleries to commission artists of African and/or Asian descent, British born or based. Crucially these commissions give an opportunity for an artist to be collected and exhibited by a major British institution – as well as contributing to a wider public debate on collections and whose heritage is being preserved. The project is funded by Art Fund and Arts Council England.

Jade Montserrat is an artist based in the North of England whose research-led work explores the interplay of art and activism through performance, drawing, painting, film, installation, sculpture, print and text. Her Future Collect commission will go on display at the gallery in autumn 2020, and will investigate the existing collection to open up conversation with other practitioners.

Jade Montserrat, Shadowing/Revue: Ecclesiastes v, 2017

Jade Montserrat Shadowing/Revue: Ecclesiastes v, 2017

A public education programme will run alongside the exhibited commission, including conversations, study days, workshops and a major conference. The conference will revisit the urgent call that Professor Stuart Hall, founding chair of Iniva, made in his keynote speech at a national conference, Whose Heritage? The Impact of Cultural Diversity on Britain’s Living, held in Manchester in November 1999. Hall called for a re-imagined Britain, reinvented for all who refuse to become ‘other’ in order to belong, and the Future Collect conference will ask whether these questions are still relevant to raise when thinking about today’s museums.

As well as events for the general public, the inaugural Future Collect will also feature a number of professional network opportunities for curators and artists, organised by Future Collect Project Manager, Rohini Malik Okon and Curatorial Trainee Nikita Gill.

We are delighted to announce Jade Montserrat as the first artist to be chosen for Future Collect. Commissioning artists is a rare and yet such a vital part of the livelihood for artists. This commission creates the space for artists to engage with the collection but also to bring the public along with them and create a meaningful context to engage with the commission and to create new relations with collections. We are extremely grateful for the support from the Art Fund and Arts Council England to make this project possible as well as our first partnering museum, Manchester Art Gallery.

Sepake Angiama, Artistic Director of Iniva

Prompted by readings of Ira Aldridge’s African American diasporic career and life, the polyphonic work I have proposed for Future Collect reflects an emphasis on care: care for the collection and care for art and artists, encouraging collective intergenerational transnational solidarities. I am excited for the opportunity to develop my practice, and this extraordinary commission promises a year of learning and, wonderfully, making art and exploring collections.

Jade Monserrat

All of us at Manchester Art Gallery are so happy to be working with Iniva and Jade Montserrat for the first Future Collect project. The Gallery has been at the heart of the development of the city from its beginnings in the early 19th century and our collections have always reflected the complexities of Manchester’s involvement in industrialisation, modernisation, colonialism and capital. At the same time our story is also one of people striving for equity and human rights locally and globally, through diplomacy and protest alike. It is with this history in mind that we want to continue to interrogate our inherited culture with artists, and to propose positive action for the future. Of late the gallery has forged a new vision as an ‘Art School for Everybody’ and a ‘Civic Think Tank,’ with artists and residents playing an active role in shaping a new kind of museum. Jade is an artist who belongs in this story, deeply rooted in the  North of England context yet equipped to come up with surprising challenges that will shake things up in a generative way. We cannot wait to see what she will contribute to the city’s collections and voice.

Alistair Hudson, Director of the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery

Tales from the Archives – Cautionary Letters to Three Youths

The message is clear; no ifs, no butts – don’t mess with Manchester Art Gallery

Under the Gallery, hidden in a labyrinth of corridors, lie the gallery archives. Behind its locked doors there are all manner of long forgotten stories and tales, of which this is only one…

It’s the tale of a crime that echoes down through the decades. There is a folder in the archives; its contents are mostly dry, boring insurance documents dealing with the transport of, and damage to, artworks. The exception is one file that describes an incident at Platt Hall; an incident that, in today’s Corona virus-stricken world of 2020, could possibly provoke anger, disbelief and moral outrage among certain quarters on social media;  a crime that, even then, was serious enough to warrant the threat of prosecution under the Criminal Justice Act of 1914.

What kind of wrongdoing could possibly elicit such a heavy-handed response from the Gallery, bringing the full force of the law down on the culprits?

Discover the heinous truth on the MAGnet blog.

A letter from 1937

Efea Rutlin: The Uncertain Attribution

Efea Rutlin, University of Manchester MA student, Art Gallery and Museum Studies, shares her research about The maker of The Penitent Magdalen.


I am currently doing a placement as part of my MA, working with the Out of the Crate exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery. I chose to work on the sculpture The Penitent Magdalen. This is a ‘Cold Case’ which means that there is a lack of information about it in the gallery’s archive – no Artist’s file or record of curatorial research. However there were leads to investigate! A record of where the sculpture came from, a gift from Mrs Theodora Winter, and an attribution to the Italian sculptor, Giuseppe Mazzuoli.

Giuseppe Mazzuoli, The Penitent Magdalen

Research: Who was the artist?

In trying to find why this piece was attributed to Mazzuoli, I looked at the style of his other pieces to compare. Mazzuoli was part of the school of Bernini, so there was information on both of them and how their style differed. To help, I posted on Art Detective to see if there was anyone who knew more than me. I got more comments than I expected, which you can see here.
Using this feedback I looked more closely at other images of pentitent magdalens, most have a theme of her looking upward, flowing clothes, and details like a book and skull but not many had a skull underneath a book and her looking into the upper left corner. I wonder if Mazzuoli was inspired by a painting by 17th century Spanish artist Murillo like Raphael Morghen was in this print?

I also went into the archives of Manchester Art Gallery to see if there was a record that had the rationale behind assigning Mazzuoli to the relief. While there was no explanation, I found a document filled in by the then-curator, so it seems it was their decision.

Raphael Morghen, Mary Magdalene, penitent in the desert, 1801


Was it really a gift?

First I began with Mrs Theodora Winter, who was she? How would she have got the sculpture? With the date that the sculpture was given to the gallery, I looked at Census Data for Lancashire around that period. Aha! A Theodora Winter appeared. She had lots of connections in the art world. Before she was a Winter she was a Barlow, her father Thomas Barlow (1883-1964) was an industrialist and banker with an interest in the arts, becoming a member of the council of the Royal College of Art and was the Chairman for the Manchester City Art Gallery for some time. She married Carl Winter in 1953, who worked as an art historian and musuem curator at the Victoria and Albert Musuem, and then the Fitzwilliam Museum. They divorced in 1953. He is a key figure in history, through giving testimony to the Wolfenden Committee, whose report in 1967 led to the decrimilisation of sex between two consenting men. He asserted that sexuality was innate, not the result of “seduction” or “recruitment”. Does this make the relief significant? The way in which it was connected to a particular figure, and was it part of the story of LGBT+ rights in Britain?

But back to Theodora, it sounds like she would have been surrounded by art for much of her life, and it is disappointing that more information on her personal life has not been recorded. After posting on Art Detective we realised that some of the information recorded online was wrong. Art UK had the piece as ‘accepted in lieu of tax by HM government and allocated to Manchester Art Gallery, 1974’, which did not match the Art Gallery’s records, and so this has now been changed.

Conclusion so far

We can now be more confident about the attribution to Mazzuoli, backed up by a few different sources. We now know a little more about the donor, Theodora Winter, and interesting members of her family.

If you are reading this, and have any more information please let us know.
We are now reviewing the information and advice that has come through to us on Art Detective and we will be setting up an Artists File for the Mazzuoli sculpture to capture all the latest research.



Hawley, H. (1973). Giuseppe Mazzuoli: Education of the Virgin. The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 60(10), 292-299. Available at:
Russel, Gordon (2004) Barlow, Sir Thomas (Tommy) Dalmahoy. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Published online 23rd September 2004. Available at:
Schlegel, U. (1967). Some Statuettes of Giuseppe Mazzuoli. The Burlington Magazine, 109(772), 388-386. Available at:
Trinity College Chapel, (2019) Carl Winter. Available at:
Victoria and Albert Museum, citing an obituary in the Times (1966) Obituary of Carl Winter. Available at:

Raphael Morghen, Mary Magdalene, penitent in the desert, 1801 (detail)
Courtesy The Met.

Silent Witness

Out of the Crate, Manchester Art Gallery’s latest sculpture exhibition, currently on display in Gallery 12, has brought into the light several pieces from our collection about which we know very little. These are the so-called Cold Cases. One piece by Marie Petrie piqued my curiosity enough to delve further.

Continue reading Silent Witness on our MAGnet blog.


Louise Giovanelli – Saints and Celebrity

‘Creating art is one way of striving for immortality, an act of hope and defiance. But will the artist be remembered, will any of us? Who knows?’

On our MAGnet blog, Visitor Services staff member and writer Patrick Kellerher offers insight into Louise Giovanelli’s queitly mysterious paintings.

Read Patrick’s article here.




Berni Searle: new acquisitions

Two powerful photographs by South African artist Berni Searle have been donated to Manchester Art Gallery.

Manchester Art Gallery has been selected as the winner of the Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society award which supports the acquisition of significant works by a living female artist into museum collections. We are receiving the photographs by Berni Searle through this scheme after making a strong case for addressing the representation of female artists within their existing collections.

Berni Searle

Searle works with lens-based media to stage narratives connected to history, memory and place. Using her own body, she addresses race, the commodification of the female body and its power in myth making. Her work connects to universal emotions of vulnerability, loss and beauty.

I am delighted and honoured to enter the permanent collection of Manchester Art Gallery, and I am grateful to the Contemporary Art Society and Valeria Napoleone for their continued patronage of women in the arts.

Untitled (Red), 1998 is a play on the racial classification of ‘coloured’ used under apartheid, the then government’s term for people of mixed ethnicities. Searle covered herself in spices in reference to the Dutch East India Company’s trade. This brought white colonisers into contact with the local inhabitants and slaves of the Cape of Good Hope, and as a consequence having children of multiple cultural heritage. She said ‘I chose to cover myself with various colours – red, yellow, white, brown, in an attempt to resist any definition of identity which is static, or can be placed into neat categories. Placing myself or my body in the work, exposes other aspects of my identity, for example, gender.’ Here Searle’s mouth is covered, and unable to speak, she confronts us directly with her eyes.

In wake of, 2014 was created after the 2012 Marikana massacre in which striking mineworkers were shot at close range by the South African police. In this closely cropped image, Searle’s body is covered with coal dust and positioned as if laid out in death. Her hands hold gold Kruger Rand coins, a symbol of the wealth created by the mine owners in direct contrast to the migrant workers who suffer under systems of racial, gender, class and economic segregation. The body here is presented as a unit of labour and memorialises women affected by the mining industry.

Manchester Art Gallery’s collection has relatively few works by women artists but many depicting women, especially nude women, created by male artists for male patrons. In using her body in her work, Searle takes back control of female representation. Although her work comes out of the context of South African history and politics, it raises universal questions which transcend place and speak to works in the collection, the gallery’s history and the people of Manchester.

Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society (VN XX CAS)

Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society (VN XX CAS) is a joint initiative of philanthropist Valeria Napoleone and the Contemporary Art Society. The scheme purchases and donates a significant work by a living female artist each year to a UK museum that that has made a strong case for addressing the representation of female artists within their existing collections. Past acquisitions have included work by Martine Syms for Leeds Art Gallery and Aliza Nisenbaum for Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery.



Berni Searle Untitled (Red). From the Colour Me series, 1998
Berni Searle In wake of 2014
©Berni Searle, courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg.