The Art Gallery through the timeGo to Nottingham City Museums
The Art Gallery – also known as the ‘Long Gallery’ – was created in the 1870s. The idea for a Nottingham art museum had been gathering local political support for several years, backed by prominent people in Nottingham’s lace industry and Sir Henry Cole, first director of the South Kensington Museum, now the V&A.
They wanted to establish a permanent museum, which would collect and exhibit art to inspire local people – especially designers in Nottingham’s famous machine-made lace industry. The Ducal Palace, which had replaced Nottingham’s medieval Castle in 1679, was chosen as the site for the new Museum.
View of the East Front of Nottingham Castle by Charles McArthur, 1874, showing the ruined Ducal Palace prior to its transformation. NCM 1910-19.
Nottingham architect Thomas Chambers Hine was brought in to remodel and transform the burned-out shell of the Palace – which had been a ruin since the Reform Bill riots in 1831.
View of the Long Gallery, c. 1878
Reproduction of a lithographic print by T. Forman & Sons, Nottingham, showing the Long Gallery in the new museum at Nottingham Castle. NCM1988-1114.
The Art Gallery, with paintings hung from floor to ceiling – was the centrepiece of the new Midland Counties Art Museum at Nottingham Castle, which was opened on 3rd July 1878 by the Prince and Princess of Wales. Crowds lined the streets to see the royal couple on their journey to the Castle; more crowds waited inside the gates, to celebrate the opening of the first civic, publicly-owned art museum outside London.
Front-page picture of the Prince of Wales opening the Castle Museum, Illustrated London News, 13th July 1878.
What makes the Art Gallery so important
The Art Gallery shows highlights from the visual arts collections. From the beginning, these have included both historical art and the leading art and craft of the day – which was originally collected to inspire designers in Nottingham’s lace industry.
Since the redevelopment in 2021, and in the future, we hope the Art Gallery will continue to inspire visitors. Most of all though, we want everyone to feel welcome, to make connections and to explore the gallery through looking, strolling, opening drawers, reading, chatting, sitting, drawing and taking ideas home with them.
The Art Gallery in the early 1900s.
Until 2021, the Art Gallery had changed very little in its purpose since it opened to the public in 1878. Although it was used on a few occasions for contemporary art exhibitions such as the British Art Show, it had usually been the focus for Nottingham Museum’s collection of oil paintings.
The new development was an opportunity to reflect on what visitors had told us they liked about previous displays and also to try something a little bit different. Many people said they enjoyed making connections between paintings from different eras, and between two- and three-dimensional artworks. They also wanted some structure to the way art works were grouped together.
The Art Gallery 2023
The new display therefore mixes together paintings, sculpture, drawings, ceramics, textiles and jewellery from different times and places, organised around six broad themes that have inspired artists for centuries: Faces; Scenic landscapes; Nature up close; Myth, power and beauty; Colour and form; Art of leisure. Artists born or with a connection to Nottingham and Nottinghamshire are included in all the thematic sections.