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The Harris, Preston



1883; 1893




Preston, North West


Museum Member (CAS)


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The Harris Museum and Art Gallery was founded in 1883 with Richard Newsham’s bequest to Preston of his remarkable Victorian art collection. He was a local lawyer who purchased work of the most esteemed artists of his time, often from the Royal Academy, such as Royal Family of France in the Prison of the Temple by EM Ward and In the Bey’s Garden by JF Lewis. He also commissioned paintings by artists like William Powell Frith and David Roberts. As a general rule, Newsham avoided ‘difficult’ work by experimental artists though he did, occasionally, make exceptions. One of his more unusual acquisitions - and the only one by an artist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, was a stunning but atypical watercolour by William Holman Hunt, The Sphinx, Gizah. Another local lawyer, Edmund Robert Harris left a bequest which enabled the museum, art gallery and library to be built in 1893.  The museum’s general collection includes sizeable groups of Chinese, Japanese and Continental wares with 20th-century studio pottery. In addition, The Harris is home to the Mrs French Perfume Bottle Collection, the largest scent bottle collection in the country.

Numerous artworks, of both national and international significance, were added to the founding collection, either by bequests, gift or purchase, including more radical examples by, for instance, Stanley SpencerWalter Sickert, Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Ivon Hitchens and David Jones. Following the founder's predilection, Preston Corporation continued to make an annual purchases for the collection from the Royal Academy, with such paintings as Gerald Leslie Brockhurst’s Dorette (1933) and a visitor favourite, Sir James Gunn’s Pauline in the Yellow Dress (1944), now complemented by the acquisition of the sitter's actual dress in 2007. 

The Harris has also received a steady stream of gifts from the Contemporary Art Society from its inception in 1910, which includes Matthew Smith’s Reflections (1938) and Lucian Freud’s remarkable Still Life with Squid and Sea Urchin (1949). Since 1985, it has also acquired works by contemporary British artists, like Helen Chadwick, Andy Goldsworthy and Boyd Webb, through a scheme funded by Preston City Council, the Contemporary Art Society and the Arts Council of England, with support from the V&A Purchase grant and the Granada Foundation. It is also prioritising the collecting of new works by artists who use photgraphs, film and digital media in their practice.  

The Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library is currently undergoing redevelopment, with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and will reopen in 2024. This development will allow the Grade I listed building to be conserved and made more accessible, to increase visitor capacity.


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