Out of the Crate

Come and look behind the scenes of Manchester’s publicly owned sculpture collection. Part exhibition, part research space, Out of the Crate delves into the un-tapped history of the collection. This is an opportunity to investigate sculpture through access to stored collections and archival material. With works spread across three rooms, you’ll be able to find out what’s in store and how we look after it, help unlock hidden stories about works we know very little about, and explore how artworks might encourage conversation.

More on display

We have about 500 sculptures from antiquity to the present day and, until now, fewer than 3% were on display. As well as modern and contemporary works, there are 19th century sculptures and works from earlier periods that have rarely been seen this century and are under-researched.

Materials and techniques

On display are a large range of materials including marble, bronze, wood, glass, ceramic and paper, a variety of sizes and shapes and different techniques of making. From bronze medals decorated with reliefs to large-scale free-standing 3D works, you can now see 25% of the sculpture collection here.

Data and information

Good data and information are the cornerstone of knowledge and understanding about the sculpture collection. That data and information comes from a variety of sources and is recorded in different ways. It varies in quantity and quality.

  • Gallery archive

    This contains accession registers - recording the purchase of or acceptance of donated works - going back to the 19th century as well as curators’ notebooks and records of meetings that can be an important source of information about objects collected in the past.

  • Artists' files

    These are physical archives containing material such as research notes, articles, letters, acquisition papers, gallery labels, information about exhibitions and loans, photographs and conservation reports. For some sculptures in the collection a large amount of archival material has been collected and the artist’s file is extensive. Take for example, Barbara Hepworth: her sculpture Doves is currently featured in Out of the Crate alongside examples of original material from four Hepworth files (photocopies of which are also available to view in the research space).

  • What about digital records?

    All the sculptures have a record on the gallery’s Collection Management Database. Ideally this will contain basic data such as title, date, materials, artist, physical description, provenance and acquisition details. There is also scope to include other types of information that can be found in Artists’ Files. We're engaged in an ongoing project to digitise all of the Artists’ Files and to store this data in our Collection Management Database. Doves is well-documented on the database but for works where there is limited information in the artists’ files database records can have significant gaps. Volunteers and placement students from the University of Manchester will be working with us during Out of the Crate to help research and fill those gaps.

  • Is this data and information available online?

    Yes, a great deal is available online via our collection search. Some of our sculpture collection can now also be viewed on Art UK. We will be undertaking more object photography during Out of the Crate to improve online access to the collections.

  • What about object labels?

    Knowledge about artworks is often communicated in gallery displays through labels. In the past it was generally gallery curators that wrote these. In recent years, the gallery has begun to involve more people in writing text for labels or other forms of interpretation; other staff, participants in programmes and projects, visitors for example. This multiplicity of voices creates knowledge, meaning and value that sits in conversation with the artworks and becomes part of the object’s history to be recorded.

  • Would you like to contribute to our knowledge?

    If you'd like to read all about our 'cold cases' - works about which we have limited information - and help us improve our knowledge about them head over here.

  • Cold Case 1: What was the First Sculpture Acquisition?

    13 plaster casts

    Jonathan Hatfield (1793-1840) gave three marble busts and 13 plaster casts to the Royal Manchester Institution in 1825. Hatfield came from a family of wealthy corn merchants. As soon as the Hatfield gift was announced in the newspapers, art students came forward, asking to draw the casts. As tastes changed, gratitude diminished.

    • How much?

      He had paid about £2000 for the sculptures which were all copies of works by the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822).

    • What happened?

      We are not exactly sure when or why this happened. Did they get damaged?

    • Neglected?

      Did they get neglected when art education moved on? It should be possible to find out. Other plaster casts in the gallery’s collection were given to the Manchester School of Art so this may be an interesting line of enquiry to follow.

    • A cause for regret?

      In Out of the Crate we can only display some reminders of the Hatfield gift. Should we regret the disappearance of the Hatfield donation?

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  • Cold Case 2: Who is the artist? Or The Uncertain Attribution.

    The Penitent Magdalen

    In 1968 the gallery was given a marble relief depicting The Penitent Magdalen. At the time of the gift the work was attributed to the Italian sculptor Giuseppe Mazzuoli (1644-1725). We will look deeper into the gallery’s historic archives to see if we can find anything more there but we will also put this case on Art UK’s Art Detective facility as there may be more expertise out there that can help to more firmly date the work and confirm whether it is indeed by Mazzuoli.

    • No files

      There is no Artist’s File and therefore no record of curatorial research (if indeed any took place at the time of the acquisition).

    • Where did it come from?

      The only thing we can be sure of is that it was given by a Mrs Theodora Winter.

    • Too clean?

      The relief has some minor damage and has been over-cleaned in the past. It is also loose in its frame.

    • Unsure of its significance

      If further information comes to light we hope it will help us to evaluate the significance of this object and its future use and display.

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  • Cold Case 3: What was the first sculpture by a female artist to enter the collection?

    The Tables Turned

    It may be The Tables Turned attributed to Gertrude Alice Williams. This was acquired in 1928 as by a male artist, Randolph Caldecott, but then reattributed in the 1980s when a curator spotted a similar sculpture in an auction house sales catalogue, selling as by Gertrude Alice Williams.

    • Gender and value

      Would the gallery even have acquired it if at the time, it had been known to be by her?

    • Is it even by Williams?

      A recent email enquiry from a visitor suggests that the sculpture might not be by Williams either. It could be by the German sculptor Hugo Rheinhold. We are doing more research and welcome further contributions on this case.

    • She might not be the first?

      If the first sculpture by a female artist to enter the collection is not The Tables Turned, then it seems more likely to be Portrait Study by Maria Petrie.

    • An unknown artist and sitter

      Who was Maria Petrie? Who is the sitter for the portrait? The portrait was purchased from The Modern Painters Exhibition in 1930 – can we find out more from records of this exhibition?

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  • Cold Case 4: The unknown artist - who is Peter Clough?

    The Little Monster

    The Little Monster by Peter Clough entered the gallery’s collection in 1961. It was purchased from The Piccadilly Gallery in London.

    • So little information

      The Artist’s File contains just one item – a black and white photograph of the sculpture.

    • So many questions

      There is no contextual information about the work or the artist.

    • When was it made?

      We don’t know when the work was made or why it was acquired.

    • Can you help?

      We would like to establish the date of the work and to find out more about Peter Clough and his work as a sculptor.

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  • Cold Case 5: The new acquisition – what do we need to know and document?

    Fairy Liquid Bottles

    The gallery is acquiring art works all the time and they enter the collection in different ways, usually by purchase, gift or bequest . Recently the gallery has acquired a large group of 59 works of conceptual art that previously belonged to the art historian and collector Thomas Frangenburg. Frangenburg who died in 2018 bequeathed part of his collection to the Contemporary Art Society who have subsequently overseen the placement of works in galleries around the UK.

    • Start at the beginning

      As a new acquisition Jemima Stehli’s Fairy Liquid Bottles needs to be thoroughly documented and an Artist’s File set up.

    • Gathering data

      We need to gather together basic information like dimensions, ensure a high resolution photograph is taken and added to the collections database.

    • A statement about the work

      We have to collect an artist statement and/or other contextual information about the work and the artist and seek permissions for reproducing images and confirm appropriate credits for the acquisition.

    • A problem for the future?

      If we do not undertake this process, we will be leaving future curators further cold cases to unravel!

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The gallery needs more art detectives!

If you like researching art and artists, following clues, resolving mysteries then why not get involved in crowd sourcing knowledge about the gallery’s sculpture collection. We would like help finding out more about the Cold Cases featured in Out of the Crate. We also welcome research on any of the sculptures in the gallery’s collection. Please use this online form to submit your contribution.


Roger Oldham A Manchester Alphabet - P for Picture Gallery, 1906

Giuseppe Mazzuoli (attributed) The Penitent Magdalen, 1700 (circa)

Peter Clough The Little Monster

Jemima Stehli Fairy Liquid Bottles

Gertrude Alice Williams The Tables Turned

Maria Petrie Portrait Study, 1911