Whitworth Art Gallery

Manchester, England

The Whitworth Art Gallery was the first English gallery opened within a public park.

Whitworth Art Gallery 6
- Steve Parkinson

Discover the Whitworth Art Gallery

In Whitworth Park and forming part of the University of Manchester, the Whitworth Art Gallery is an important cultural institution with a collection of over 60,000 items. There are both contemporary and renaissance works including British watercolours, wallpapers, world textiles, and pieces by famous artists such as Dürer, Rembrandt, Picasso, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and David Hockney.

In 2015, the gallery underwent a huge renovation, doubling its exhibition spaces. The project also opened the gallery up to the surrounding park by installing glass-screened walkways and big windows. The reopening attracted over 440,000 visitors in its first year and earned the gallery a shortlisting for the prestigious Stirling Prize and the winning of the Art Fund's Museum of the Year award, in 2015.

Whitworth Art Gallery 3
- John Lord

Foundation and Early History of Whitworth Art Gallery

The Whitworth Art Gallery, founded in 1889 by Robert Dukinfield Darbishire with a generous donation from Sir Joseph Whitworth, began as "The Whitworth Institute and Park." Remarkably, it was the first arts institution situated in a public park. The initial building, completed in 1908, was the beginning of the gallery's physical presence. By 1958, the gallery had become part of the Victoria University of Manchester.

Whitworth Art Gallery
- City Suites

Design of the Whitworth Art Gallery

The Whitworth Art Gallery was designed by J.W. Beaumont in a free Jacobean style and constructed between 1895 and 1900. The structure is characterised by its red brick exterior, complemented by terracotta bands and dressings, and crowned with green slate roofs.

In October 1974, the Whitworth Art Gallery achieved Grade II listed status. The gallery continued to evolve, and in October 1995, a new mezzanine court was constructed to display sculpture at the gallery. This addition, won a RIBA regional award.

Whitworth Art Gallery 4
- Steve Parkinson

The Whitworth Art Gallery Collection

The Whitworth houses an internationally recognised collection of over 60,000 works of art, textiles, and wallpapers. The collection predominantly features 20th-century British artists, including Walter Sickert, David Bomberg, Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson, and Barbara Hepworth. It also includes art by British Surrealists such as Edward Wadsworth, Roland Penrose, Edward Burra, and Conroy Maddox. One of the most famous pieces in the collection is Sir Jacob Epstein's marble sculpture "Genesis" (1929–31).

Whitworth Art Gallery 7
- Bryn Roberts

Historic Art

Since its creation, the Whitworth Art Gallery has focused on acquiring historic prints and drawings, particularly British watercolours, which were less fashionable at the time compared to oil paintings. This has resulted in a remarkable collection of art by Thomas Gainsborough, Alexander Cozens, John Robert Cozens, Thomas Girtin, and J.M.W. Turner.

Modern and Contemporary Art

In the 1960s and 1970s, Whitworth was a pioneer in collecting contemporary British art, acquiring early works by David Hockney and Bridget Riley. The gallery’s modern and contemporary collection begins with works by Impressionists and Post-Impressionists such as Degas, van Gogh, and Pissarro. And then European Modernists like Picasso, Moholy-Nagy, and Paul Klee. The collection also includes pieces by Young British Artists from the 1980s and 90s, such as Tracey Emin, Michael Landy, Gillian Wearing, and Sarah Lucas.

After the gallery's rejuvenation in 2015, it reopened with a major solo exhibition by British contemporary artist Cornelia Parker, alongside nine other exhibitions, including works by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, Sarah Lucas, and photographer Johnnie Shand Kydd.

Whitworth Art Gallery 3 (2)
- Bryn Roberts

Musgrave Kinley Outsider Collection

Among its offerings, the Whitworth is home to the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Collection, generously donated to the gallery through the Contemporary Art Society. This collection has over 1,153 individual artworks by 129 artists, curated by Monika Kinley and Victor Musgrave over 30 years.

Stealing from the Whitworth Art Gallery

A dramatic incident occurred in 2003 when three valuable paintings by Van Gogh, Picasso, and Gauguin were stolen. The paintings, valued at £4 million, were later recovered after being found in a nearby public toilet with a note criticising the gallery's security. Following minor repairs, the artworks were returned to display.

Whitworth Art Gallery 5
- diamond geezer

Expanding the Whitworth Art Gallery

In 2010, the Whitworth Art Gallery welcomed 172,000 visitors, making it one of Greater Manchester's top tourist attractions. This success was a precursor to the grand reopening on 14th February 2015, after the major transformation, which was made possible by the winning of a RIBA Competitions architectural competition in 2008.

By February 2011, funding was secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the University of Manchester and the transformation could begin. Despite initial plans to reopen by summer 2014, unforeseen complications delayed the completion. When it finally reopened on Valentine’s Day, there was a weekend of free events, music, and fireworks.

The redevelopment was carried out by MUMA architects and included the creation of bigger galleries, a learning studio, a study centre, an art garden, and a café. The new glass, stainless steel, and brick extension featured two wings extending into Whitworth Park, connected by a glass promenade, effectively increasing the gallery's size by a third.

Whitworth Art Gallery 1
- Tim Jokl

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What you need to know

Whitworth Art Gallery
The University Of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M15 6ER
53.460297, -2.229178
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