THE art treasures of the North East should be drawing many more visitors to the region, it has been claimed.
A project to reveal and promote the internationally important collections in the North East has resulted in a catalogue of colour images of more than 2,500 oil paintings held by Tyne and Wear Museums.
It includes over 1,000 paintings from the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle and around 700 in the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead.
The project, backed by a range of donors including the Northern Rock Foundation, Fenwick Ltd and Renaissance North East, is a collaboration between the North East Regional Museums Hub and the Public Catalogue Foundation.
The foundation, a charity, was set up in 2003 with the aim of increasing public access to the 200,000 oil paintings in public ownership in the UK.
It is believed that the UK holds in its galleries and civic buildings arguably the greatest publicly owned collection of oil paintings in the world.
This includes works in places ranging from museums and galleries to council buildings, universities and hospitals.
At any one time 80% of these are in storage or in locations without routine public access.
A further two catalogues are planned to cover works in the North East.
Foundation chairman Dr Fred Hohler said that the collection of oil paintings at the Laing Art Gallery, for example, was of national importance and its strength in 20th Century British art was remarkable.
“So why is it not a greater place of popular cultural pilgrimage, for visitors from home and abroad?” said Dr Hohler.
“Why is it that in Italy and Spain, Venice, Florence, Barcelona and Seville are visited as readily as the metropolis, but that in Britain London rules alone?
“London is only a fraction of what is on offer in Britain. Why does someone not say so, and in a voice loud enough for all to hear?
“The reason lies in the failure to recognise that the regional collections such as the Laing, with their extraordinary wealth of art, are all parts of one national collection and that they need to be understood and promoted as such.”
In addition to its oil paintings, the Laing Art Gallery also has more than 4,000 watercolours. Dr Hohler said that one idea was to hold regional exhibitions in London during the 2012 Olympics to show visitors what can be seen outside the capital.
Ged Bell, chairman of Tyne and Wear Museums, said: “This volume will serve to open up the entirety of our exceptional collections to a much wider audience.”
Also covered in the catalogue are works from South Shields Museum and Art Gallery, Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens and the Discovery Museum in Newcastle.
Alec Coles, director of Tyne and Wear Museums, said: “This volume will give voice to a collection which, apart from its better-known highlights, has been quiet for far too long.”
Images in the catalogue can be reproduced as fine quality prints, and are available at www.artprints.org.uk.
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Gallery a gift
BUSINESSMAN Alexander Laing offered to build an art gallery in Newcastle in 1900 to mark his 50 years in the wine and spirits trade.
The gallery opened in 1904 and its works range from Paul Gauguin’s The Breton Shepherdess to the most comprehensive collection in the world of the paintings of the artist John Martin, born in Haydon Bridge in Northumberland.
Sunderland had the first local authority museum outside London following the Museums Act of 1846.
The first recorded fine art work for the new museum was a commission by Sunderland Corporation from local artist Mark Thompson of the opening of the town’s new South Dock in 1850, for which he was paid 30 guineas.
Sunderland’s oil painting collection now stands at over 500 works.
L S Lowry often stayed at the Seaburn Hotel in Sunderland and the collections include four of his oil paintings, others on long-term loan and a number of drawings.
The collections at South Shields originated from a combination in 1870 of works from the South Shields Literary, Mechanical and Scientific Institution and the Working Men’s Club. The South Shields Library opened in 1973 and the museum in 1876.
Solicitor's bequest founded gallery
SOLICITOR Joseph Shipley built up a personal collection of 2,500 paintings.
He left a £30,000 bequest for a new gallery to be constructed to display his works.
The Gateshead gallery which bears his name opened in 1917 with 504 of Shipley’s paintings forming the gallery’s initial permanent collection.
One of the most recent additions is William Irving’s The Blaydon Races, which was bought for the region at auction in London after a campaign led by The Journal.