The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester is truly a tour de force of the cultural national stage, with July seeing the gallery win both the £100,000 Art Fund prize for Museum of the Year in addition to making the shortlist for this year’s prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize for the best new building in the UK.
Last year the Whitworth underwent the largest physical transformation in its 125-year history with a £15 million redevelopment project that doubled the gallery’s size and connected the building with its surrounding park. During that time the gallery created an ambitious season of events and exhibitions that further highlighted it to the Art Fund judges as a real ‘museum of the future’.
In June 2015 the Director of the Whitworth Art Gallery, Dr Maria Balshaw, was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours as thanks for her services to the arts.
In anticipation of the announcement of RIBA’s Stirling Prize 2015 winner on 15 October, celebrate the Whitworth Art Gallery’s recent achievements by exploring their collections in the Bridgeman archive.
© The Whitworth Art Gallery
An Acclaimed Art Collection
Established with a legacy from Victorian entrepreneur Sir Joseph Whitworth, the gallery boasts one of the UK’s greatest collections of works on paper and textiles. Its British watercolours and European prints make it pre-eminent outside London and it has over 50 works by Turner and many fine Pre-Raphaelites. The textile collection is one of Britain’s most comprehensive, with very rare Coptic pieces from the 4th century through to contemporary work.
The Ancient of Days, William Blake (1757-1827) / Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, UK / Bridgeman Images
The Whitworth’s historic art collections have their origins in the Royal Jubilee Exhibition staged in Manchester in 1887, the year that the Whitworth Institute was established.
The renowned artworks include major watercolours and drawings by 18th century artists like Thomas Gainsborough, Paul Sandby and Thomas Jones, 19th century Romantic landscapes by Thomas Girtin, J. M. W. Turner and Samuel Palmer, as well as significant Pre-Raphaelite works by Rossetti, Holman Hunt, Millais and Burne-Jones.
The Whitworth received by far its largest gift of watercolours in 1892, from John Edward Taylor, the influential owner of the Manchester Guardian. This included some of the works for which the Whitworth is now famous, such as ‘The Ancient of Days’, one of seven works by William Blake in the collection.
Glide Path, 1964 / Peter Lanyon / Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, UK / Bridgeman Images
This collection is an excellent overview of contemporary art, with new artworks that reflect our time collected within the context of the modern greats of the 20th century. The Whitworth was at the forefront of collecting British art during the 60s and 70s, and made some of the earliest purchases of Bridget Riley and David Hockney‘s work for public display.
Expressed chronologically, it begins with the likes of Degas, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Pissarro, continuing on to feature European Modernists Paul Klee, Picasso and Maholy-Nagly, in addition to notable British artists like Sickert, Piper, Wadsworth and Ben Nicholson. Alongside this impressive list are influential pieces by Freud, Bacon and Auerbach.
Under the enterprising leadership of the Dr. Maria Balshaw, the gallery is continuing to grow as a true bastion of contemporary art.
From top: Embroidered panel depicting ‘Winter’, Coptic (4th Century) / Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, UK / Bridgeman Images; Embroidered Panel depticting ‘Autumn’, Coptic (4th Century) / Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, UK / Bridgeman Images
Prominent pieces in the collection include textile garments and fragments worn in first millennium Egypt, fabrics from South Asia, Italian and French silks, Mediterranean and Islamic embroideries, plus the work of William Morris and other designers from the Arts and Craft Movement. Witness over 20,000 internationally important textiles from across the globe, ranging from third century AD to the present day. Whitworth’s astonishing textile holdings are evidence of the global trade in textiles that grew Manchester’s reputation and wealth during the Industrial Revolution.
Fuji in the Morning (woodblock print), Ando or Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) / Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, UK / Bridgeman Images
The gallery is home to possibly the finest collection of artists’ prints in northern England, with works that date back to the 15th century. Their acquisitions include 70 engravings and woodcuts by Albrecht Durer, together with outstanding prints by Rembrandt, Hollar, Canaletto, Piranesi, Goya, Schongauer and many more.
There are some Japanese and American prints within the collection, although its focus is on British and Continental European works, including one of the most comprehensive compilations of William Hogarth‘s prints in the UK.
Brother Rabbit, 1882, William Morris (1834-96) / Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, UK / Bridgeman Images
Cockatoo and Pomegranate Wallpaper Design, 1899, Walter Crane (1845-1915) / Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, UK / Bridgeman Images
The Whitworth also has a rare collection of over 5,000 examples of eclectic wallpaper prints, most of which were given by The Wall Paper Manufacturers Ltd in 1967.
The broad range of exquisite wallpapers date back from the 18th century to the present, with more modern examples being designed by artists like Allen Jones, Damien Hirst, Niki de Saint Phalle and Robert Gober.
Bird in Hand, 1931, Gertrude Hermes / Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, UK / Bridgeman Images
The Whitworth is home to a growing number of contemporary sculpture works, mostly located within the gallery grounds and Whitworth Park. It also hosts important sculptures by such artists as Hepworth, Moore, Epstein, Caro, Paolozzi, Metzger and Borland.
* ‘Whitworth gallery extension up for Stirling architecture prize‘. BBC News. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
* The University of Manchester, The Whitworth‘. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
Find out More
The Stirling Prize is the highest accolade awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects, designed to recognise outstanding work by RIBA architects within the EU. The award ceremony will be held on 15 October 2015. Book tickets.
The Art Fund prize is the largest arts award in Britain and the biggest museum prize in the world. It is given to a gallery or museum in the UK that has proven its excellence, imagination and innovation.
Images and Licensing
Get in touch with the Bridgeman team at firstname.lastname@example.org with enquiries about licensing and clearing copyright. Browse all images in the Whitworth collection.