• Search Icon
  • Toggle Menu
  • Close Menu

Dudley Museum and Art Gallery (Dudley Museum at The Archives)





Dudley, West Midlands


Museum / Recipient


View website


The origin of publicly owned art collections in the Dudley area goes back to 1884 when the Borough of Dudley established a combined Art School, Art Gallery and Free Library in a new building in St James’s Road, Dudley. The Art School occupied the whole of the first floor, the Library was allocated most of the ground floor, while one room was set aside for the Art Gallery. Dudley had no existing art collection, and so for the first few years the Art Gallery lay empty. To remedy this situation, the Art Gallery Committee, with advice from the Director of Birmingham Art Gallery, decided to organise a loan exhibition of works by contemporary British artists. This opened in August 1888, and at the same time a subscription fund was set up to enable the Gallery to purchase paintings from the exhibition and start a permanent collection. Two of the Gallery’s most important oil paintings were bought from this first exhibition; An Autumn Afterglow by Alfred East and Cromwell at the ‘Blue Boar’, Holborn, London by Ernest Crofts.

From this time onwards the annual exhibition became a regular fixture in the Art Gallery calendar. Several pictures were purchased each year; this in turn encouraged prominent local figures to donate paintings, and slowly the art collection grew. Dudley’s best-loved painting, The Sale of Old Dobbin, by John Robertson Reid, was purchased through public subscription from the eighteenth Annual Exhibition in 1905. Reid appears to have been a particular favourite of the Art Gallery Committee and the Gallery owns no less than six of his paintings. Drawings, watercolours and prints were being added to the Collection by this time, and in 1914 the Art Gallery purchased its first significant local history picture, Parade of the Loyal Association in Dudley Castle Courtyard, 9 August 1798 by the Dudley-born artist Thomas Phillips.

During the 1930s a lively temporary exhibition programme was introduced by the Gallery’s Honorary Curator, C. V. Mackenzie. At this period the Art Gallery still consisted of just one room, so to house these exhibitions the permanent collection had to be curtained off and the displays were mounted on screens. The programme included the annual exhibition of the Dudley Art Circle, which Mackenzie had helped to found in 1928, and this exhibition is still held annually in the Art Gallery today. One of the Circle’s most distinguished members was the Dudley born artist Percy Shakespeare. He had studied at the Dudley Art School in the 1920s under Principal Ivo Shaw and went on to teach at Birmingham, but his promising career was cut short when he was killed in the Second World War. In 1937 the first inventory of the art collection was drawn up. By this time Dudley owned over 70 oil paintings but a handful of pictures, which we know had been acquired in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, had mysteriously disappeared from the Collection.

 The Art School finally moved to new premises in the 1960s (the Library had left many years earlier) and the whole building became a Museum and Art Gallery. A permanent Geology Gallery was created on the ground floor, and the Art Gallery began to collect modern prints, which were loaned out to schools, colleges and libraries. From 1954 until 2004 the Art Gallery organised an annual open art exhibition for West Midlands artists. This was initially called The Local Artists’ Exhibition but changed its name in the 1970s to Mid Art. Some of the more modern oils in the Collection were purchased from this exhibition.

Prior to local government reorganisation in the 1960s and 1970s, the neighbouring towns of Brierley Hill, Stourbridge and Halesowen were independent from Dudley and had their own separate Councils. Over the years each of these Authorities had acquired pictures, the most serious collection being the one formed by the Council in Brierley Hill. Following the creation of Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council in 1974, these collections were gradually moved to Dudley Museum and Art Gallery and catalogued using the Gallery’s numbering system. Today the combined collection numbers around 2,000 works of which approximately 270 are oils. Additions are still being made to the Art Collection, although on a much more limited scale than previously, with the acquisitions policy focusing on pictures that have some connection with the local area, either through the artist, subject matter or both.

Little of the Collection had been photographed before the start of this project with The Public Catalogue Foundation, so we are enormously grateful to The PCF for funding the photography of the oil paintings and making this part of the Collection more widely known.



Browse more relevant artworks.

You Might Also Like