Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery opened to the public in 1910. After being badly damaged during the Blitz, the interior of the gallery was refurbished in 1954. It was completely transformed with a series of new galleries and exhibition spaces, including the Library and St Luke's church buildings and in 2020 re-opened as The Box, Plymouth. It also features a striking elevated ‘archive in the sky’ with research and learning facilities, food, drink and retail spaces and a major new public square (Tavistock Place) was created for performances, events and artistic responses.
The collection includes a majority of works by English artists from the 19th and 20th centuries, with many views of the region by local artists Sir Joshua Reynolds, Charles Locke Eastlake and Benjamin Robert Haydon, as well as works from the Newlyn School. There is a large collection of ceramics with a range of styles from the work of William Cookworthy and Plymouth Porcelain, to the 20th-century studio pottery of Bernard Leach, Bernard Forrester, Ewen Henderson, Mary Rogers and Cailtlin Jenkins.
The 20th-century collection is characterised by the St Ives School and the Camden Town Group with artists, many of whom were acquired through the Contemporary Art Society such as Wilhemina Barns-Graham, Peter Lanyon, John Piper, Alfred Wallis and Howard Hodgkin. More recent contemporary art is represented by artists such as Ryan Mosley, Zadie Xa, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Tai Shani.
A 3-channel film installation by the American artist Kehinde Wiley, Narrenshiff (The Ship of Fools), 2017, made in the same year he painted Barack Obama's portrait, was acquired by the Contemporary Art Society through its Collections Fund at Frieze for The Box in 2018. Using Sebastian Brant's 1494 satirical allegory as a springboard, it is a visually compelling film of a group of black men at sea, capturing the full spectrum of the human condition, approriate for Plymouth's new coastal museum.