Collecting and Philanthropy
Museums rely on the support of their local community and Blackburn is indebted to those unsung benefactors whose selfless acts of generosity have formed the basis of its core collections. Art lovers, dealers and industrialists have all had a major part in bringing together the unique and varied collections since the establishment of the Free Library and Museum in 1873.
The committee responsible for building the Museum include the great and the good of Blackburn; Alderman James Thompson, Thomas Lewis (father of TB Lewis, who gave the Lewis Textile Museum), Adam Dugdale; businessman, reformer and leader of the Conservative party, James Lund cotton manufacturer; Sir William Henry Hornby, MP and local councillor and Alderman Henry Livesey, engineer and industrialist. Their likenesses are captured for us to see on the carved stone panel outside the museum, paid for by their illustrious selves.
The names Edward Hart and Thomas Boys Lewis in particular are recalled with particular gratitude. Their gifts to the people of Blackburn include a splendid collection of rare books and manuscripts, Japanese prints and the Lewis Textile Museum.
In addition there are a great many other less well-known individuals, some of whom wished their gifts to be anonymous, whose taste and kindness has enabled people to enjoy beautiful works of art by major artists such as JMW Turner's, 'The Fall of the Trees', David Cox's 'Lancaster Sands' and Myles Birkett Foster's 'Rialto Bridge' as well as work by important local artists such as Herbert Railton's local views, Sir Charles Holmes' painting of 'Blackburn Canal' and James Sharples' internationally known image of 'The Forge' that epitomizes the spirit of industrialization in Blackburn.
The picture dealer Richard Haworth appears to have been a major influence on the range of artistic material coming into Blackburn. A keen amateur artist himself, he had an art dealers' and framers shop in Rostron's buildings for 51 years and supplied a great many good quality works of art to individuals, as well as negotiating the sale of works to the Museum at competitive prices directly from living artists including Henri Herbert La Thangue's 'A Ligurian Flower Girl'. Although the business changed hands after his death, the name 'Richard Haworth' remained until the demolition of buildings for the new extension to Barbara Castle way.
The very first work acquired by the Museum was on June 9th 1875. The painting 'Laying of the foundation Stone of the Blackburn Cotton Exchange' by Vladimir Sherwood was purchased by the Committee for the sum of £17.9.6.
Detailed record books record donations from local individuals from the 1880s.
In July 1883 a watercolour of Livsey Old Hall was given by Charles Haworth. The collections were enhanced in February 1884 by a bequest of paintings from Mrs Jane Dodgson 'to the ratepayers of Blackburn'.
In 1856 Mr Richard Barton Dodgson, Chief Clerk at Cunliffe Brook's Bank, was left a fortune by his uncle, James Pickup, the Blackburn wine and spirits merchant. He retired, and he and his wife Jane spent their time and money collecting works of art and promoting the arts in Blackburn. The Dodgsons' resided at Beardwood. Their only son died in 1879 in Zurich; there is a stained glass memorial to him at Mellor Church. In 1882 Mr Barton died, followed by his wife Jane 18 months later. Their bequest to the Museum includes watercolours by Cox, Copley Fielding, Prout and Edward Duncan. Oil paintings include a portrait of Mrs Barton by Joshua Reynolds.
Mr Edwin Leach Hartley, born in Blackburn, the youngest of 9 children to Mr George Pickup Hartley, a provisions dealer, studied at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and later gained his MA at Cambridge. He practiced as a barrister. He left 88 works to the Museum; 6 works by Turner including 'The Falls of Terni', bought by J Ruskin in 1869 at Christies for £593.5s. Other works include watercolours by Girtin, de Wint and Cotman.
Mr A C Bowdler bequeathed a work by John Collier 'Hetty Sorrel' which was thought at the time to 'introduce a new phase of work into the gallery' - to show works with a theme of social conscience. Leading into perhaps dangerous waters, the painting deals with a tragic theme of infanticide from the novel of the same name. Bowdler also bequeathed the excellent collection of beetles that has delighted generations of schoolchildren and adults alike.
The statue the 'Octoroon' is an unusual and perhaps brave choice for the museum. The money for its purchase was raised by public subscription. An 'Octoroon' is a person of one-eighth Afro Carribean ancestry. The statue is supposed to represent Blackburn breaking free from the chains and shackles of the past. Its current position on view in a gentlemans' parlour perhaps gives a different view of the visual delights of the statue. It was finally purchased at a knock down price due to a fault in the marble - a black streak, barely visible, but nevertheless considered to give it an 'inferior' value.
More recently help from the National Arts Collections Fund in the form of grants and bequests have allowed Blackburn to add icons and ivories to its collections. Art work by Peter Cunliffe, an ex-Blackburn College of Art student who studied at the Royal College of Art and is now a printmaker of international importance and Shanti Panchal, also a renowned contemporary artist, take the collections forward into the 21st century and will provide enjoyment for generations of art lovers to come...