Bristol Museum & Art Gallery holds collections of applied art, archaeology, biology, Eastern art, Egyptology, fine art, geology, industrial and maritime history, social history and world cultures. It is part of Bristol Culture which also manages MShed, Blaise Castle House Museum, Red Lodge and Georgian House, Kings Weston Roman Villa, Bristol Archives and public arts. The fine art collection tells the story of art in the West from the Old Masters to non-Western artists emerging on the global scene today.
Initiated as the Bristol Institution for the Advancement of Science and Art, the organisation became part of Bristol City Council in May 1894 when the tobacco merchant, Sir William Henry Wills, donated money for the building of a City Museum and Art Gallery. The gallery was designed by Sir Frederick Wills and opened to the public in 1905.
Bristol’s collection covers a wide range of work, including paintings by Giovanni Bellini, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Thomas Gainsborough and Edouard Vuillard, as well as a selection of Victorian paintings by Lawrence Alma Tadema and the Pre-Raphaelites. The modern collection is dominated by the work of 20th-century British artists including members of the St Ives School like Barbara Hepworth and Peter Lanyon. And contemporary works include pieces by Aubrey Williams, Lynn Chadwick, Elisabeth Frink, Richard Long, David Nash, Ai Weiwei, Do Ho Suh, Yto Barrada and Emily Jacir. Recent gifts from the Contemporay Art Society include films and videos by Roddy Buchanan, Matt Calderwood, Sarah Dobai, Ben Rivers and Thomson and Craighead as the gallery is prioritising the moving image in its contemporary collection. Bristol also has a large craft collection ranging from coloured glassware from 18th-century China to silverware produced in Bristol and a cabinet of works by contemporary applied artists. The contemporary gallery space displays a number of exhibitions throughout the year. Works on show in the permanent collection rarely change.