Manchester Art Gallery is best known for its collection of works by 19th century British artists, particularly the Pre-Raphaelites. However the fine art collections are not exclusively British and contain material from the 1400s to the present day. Altogether there are over 14,000 works, including 2,000 oil paintings and 350 sculptures, as well as drawings, watercolours, prints, posters, photographs and medals.
The nucleus of the fine art collection was transferred from the Royal Manchester Institution to the new City Art Gallery in 1882. From the outset there was a commitment to acquiring contemporary art, hence the strength of the Victorian and Edwardian collections.
The modern British collection up to the end of the Second World War is equally significant due to the judicious collecting of the first director, Lawrence Haward, from 1914 to 1945, and the gift of Charles Rutherston’s extensive modern art collection in 1926. Since 1945 the holdings of historic British art have been augmented by the purchase of major paintings by Gainsborough, Stubbs and Turner amongst others.
Under the directorship of Timothy Clifford, 1978-1984, the European Old Masters collection was transformed by the Assheton Bennett bequest of almost a hundred paintings, mainly by 17th century Dutch and Flemish artists, and a number of ambitious purchases, including works by Algardi, Claude, Bellotto and Canaletto.
More recently, the Galleries have acquired work by contemporary British, European, African, American and Asian artists – a reflection of the increasing internationalism of the art world and the city itself.
George Stubbs, Cheetah and Stag with Two Indians 1760-1770