Museum Guide

 Read our Museum Guide to find out more.

A Little About Us

In 1898 the third Baron de Ferrieres, a former Mayor and MP for Cheltenham, gave 43 important paintings, mostly from Belgium and the Netherlands, to the town, together with £1000 towards the building of a gallery in which to house them. This was opened in 1899.

In 1905 the Schools of Art and Science left the premises they occupied next door to the Art Gallery, and the Museum was opened in these rooms two years later. From that time the collections grew in number and in quality, with the great majority generously given by the people of Cheltenham. In 1975 a branch museum was opened in the birthplace of Gustav Holst, the composer, which was completely furnished from the collections. This became an independent museum in 2000. In 1983 a museum was opened to display the costume collection in Cheltenham’s most important historic building, the Pittville Pump Room: this was closed in 1999.

The first real increase in space and visitor facilities came in 1989 when HRH The Princess Royal opened an extension to the Art Gallery & Museum. This is the building in which the main entrance is sited.

The Gloucestershire Context

Throughout the galleries, the life and landscapes of Gloucestershire, from prehistory to modern times, are recurring themes.

(Image on the right: British archaeology, 3500 BC-350 AD)

The county is rich in natural resources, particularly wood and stone. In the Summerfield Galleries these are shown in settings featuring animals, birds and flowers of the Gloucestershire countryside. They also include some of the tools used by people working with these: stone for the houses and drystone walls that characterise the Cotswold hills; wood for building, and for the furniture of the Cotswold craft tradition.

Gloucestershire is also rich in archaeology and history, both of which are represented in the galleries. From our distant past comes excavated material from the Stone Age to Roman Britain.

More recent times are reflected by images such as the two early 18th-century paintings of Dixton depicting scenes of rural life, and by the local displays in the Arts and Crafts Gallery. Here, high quality handmade furniture, textiles and metalwork are shown alongside paintings, prints and objects representing aspects of life in one of England’s most beautiful and varied counties.

Cheltenham's Past

In about 1716, a medicinal spring was discovered in a field to the south of the small market town of Cheltenham, on a site now occupied by Cheltenham Ladies College. The town developed as a spa. Its heyday came between 1788 and the 1840s, following King George III's visit.

From these years come many of the elements which make Cheltenham England's most complete Regency town - its pump rooms, villas, terraces and gardens. The late 18th and 19th centuries also saw the development of its social, cultural and sporting life, and of new roles as a residential, educational and manufacturing centre. By 1850 it was the largest town in Gloucestershire.

These, and many other aspects of Cheltenham's past may be explored in the Cheltenham History Galleries. The collections are particularly strong in painting, prints and drawings of Cheltenham since the 1740s. Also on display are souvenir china showing views of the town, and the high-quality products of its woodcarvers and metalworkers, such as William Letheren and H H Martyn & Co, during the late 19th and 20th centuries.

(Image on the left: The limber - a broken pole, 1924, by Robert Lindsey Clark and a terracotta caryatid from Montpellier, 1843. Image on the right: Chimney sweep's trade sign, early 19th century)

Distant Past to Present Day

(Image on the right: Eastern Mediterranean and British archaeology, 2300 BC - 1690 AD)

The Museum’s collections span 3000 years of history, from pottery belonging to ancient civilisations to household goods of the 20th-century.

Archaeology displays show a variety of objects used by local people over the centuries, including Neolithic flint tools for hunting, and Iron Age currency bars for trading. From Roman Britain there are household objects found inside Roman villas, together with discoveries from a large Romano-British cemetery.

As well as local material there are ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman objects. Many of these were brought to Cheltenham by local travellers earlier this century. They include the foot of an Egyptian mummy and a shell-encrusted Greek vase.

Antarctica to China

 In the Art Gallery & Museum you can see objects from all over the world. Most of these have been brought back to Cheltenham by local people, whether explorers or those returning to the town having spent most of their lives abroad. Edward Wilson, who was born here, travelled to the Antarctic with Captain Scott and died there in 1912 on the way back from the South Pole.

(Image on the right: Display showing Edward Wilson's snow suit and other belongings from his Antarctic expeditions, 1901-12)

The Wilson Room includes a Polar scene which shows his snowsuit, skis and sledge, and penguins collected in Antarctica.     For more information on Edward Wilson click here  and brings together information on events taking place internationally to commemorate the centenary of the British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition, 1910-13, led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott.  There is also a press release with details of our exhibition, The last journey: the Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole.

Charles Sturt, who retired to Cheltenham, was one of the early explorers of Australia. His showcase of exotic birds is a favourite exhibit.

The Oriental Gallery shows Chinese pottery and costume. The most unusual Chinese collection came from Mr. Berkeley Smith who spent much of his life in India. This includes rare pottery made in China for the Indian market. Recent bequests include early wares so it is now possible to see over 2000 years of Chinese ceramics.

The Museum also has collections brought back by local people relating to the British in India and Africa. It is hoped in the future to have a Cheltenham and Empire Gallery to explore these connections.


How We Used to Live

The Summerfield Galleries show how we used to live in past centuries. Like all museum displays, the picture given is limited by what the Museum has and what survives. The belongings of the less well-off were rarely saved. The displays include paintings, furniture and objects in everyday use - from coins to candlesticks.

The focus of each room is a table display with a place setting complete with food and personal belongings. There are also fireplace settings. Handling tables give visitors, especially partially-sighted people and children, the chance to touch and examine more closely objects of the time.

Life from the medieval period to the 17th century is illustrated by European paintings, domestic furniture and a collection of rare pewter which belonged to Mr Isher, a local antique dealer.

From two hundred years ago there is furniture that could have been found in a Gloucestershire farmer's house, contrasting with finer pieces produced for the wealthy. A sedan chair from Bourton-on-the-Water shows how the local aristocracy sometimes travelled. 18th-century porcelain reveals the fashionable taste for Chinese and rococo styles.

From Cheltenham’s heyday a Regency gallery shows the fashion for classical Roman and Greek designs, and includes spectacular Regency tiaras and jewellery. A Victorian gallery includes a display of Parian - white porcelain figures for the mantelpiece, their subjects taken from mythology and history. There are also Victorian paintings and sculpture, and furniture including an important table by Pugin.

The Painter's View

In the galleries you can see pictures and sculptures spanning five centuries, from the Renaissance to the present day. The artists represented are mostly British, with the notable exception of a group of paintings from Belgium and the Netherlands from the 17th and 19th centuries. These were once owned by the Baron de Ferrieres, who founded the Art Gallery in 1898.

The Baron's taste for the fine detail at which the Dutch excelled is evident in pictures by Gerrit Dou, Gabriel Metsu and Jan Steen, among others. Flowers in a glass vase was painted around 1700 by Rachel Ruysch, a still life specialist and celebrated woman artist.

She and her contemporaries were interested in the close observation of nature and this continues in 19th-century Dutch paintings, such as those by Cornelis Springer and B C Koekkoek, whose work can also be seen.

The Cotswolds have inspired many painters, from the early 18th. century onwards. The pair of large panoramic views showing Dixton Manor and the adjoining countryside provide a fascinating insight into life on the land before mechanisation. No less impressive for its accuracy is Thomas Robins' bird's-eye view of Charlton Park, in which an embryonic Cheltenham nestles beyond the neatly laid-out estate.

In the Victorian era many local artists, such as Briton Riviere, were obliged to pursue their careers in London. At the turn of this century, however, the trend was reversed when painters returned to the countryside in order to escape city life. At Painswick near Cheltenham, Charles Gere and his halfsister Margaret formed an offshoot of the Birmingham School of artist-craftsmen, many of whom are portrayed in his picture The Tennis Party.

You can also see examples of modern movements in art, such as in the Post-Impressionist colouring of Vanessa Bell and the visionary style of Stanley Spencer.

(Image on the right: Village life, Gloucestershire, 1940, by Stanley Spencer)

His Village life, Gloucestershire, with its portraits of himself and the women he loved, was a souvenir of his wartime visit to Leonard Stanley near Stroud and shows villagers witnessing the second coming of Christ.

Eye For Detail

Many of the paintings, furniture and pottery on show include intricate details. Their makers' skills, a delight to the eye, are revealed on a closer look.

(Image on the right: Detail of a writing cabinet 1898-9, designed by Charles Ashbee)

Among the ceramics are plates, cups and teapots with detailed Chinese scenes. landscapes, and finely painted flowers and birds by artists who worked for factories such as Worcester, Coalport or those in Staffordshire.

Arts and Crafts designers paid particular attention to detail and there are good examples in the furniture here.

A few textiles are on display. Here you can see fine examples of embroidery from two and three hundred years ago. As these fade easily they are frequently changed with others in the study collections.

One of the largest paintings is full of tiny details. Countryside Around Dixton Manor shows the complete process of haymaking from cutting the hay to celebrating the harvest.

This only gives a glimpse of some of the details to be found in the Art Gallery & Museum. With so much to discover, each visit provides a chance to see new things.

The Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts Gallery offers an opportunity to appreciate fine craftsmanship, art and design from about 1880 to the 1940s with internationally important collections. This is the collection for which the Art Gallery & Museum has received Designated status.

The Arts and Crafts Movement took shape in the 1880s as a reaction to the effects of the Industrial Revolution on design, the environment and people's working lives. It stood for straightforward functional design, decoration based on plant forms, and above all the importance of creative manual work. Beginning with William Morris' reaction to mid 19th-century art, the Gallery illustrates the work of some of the London-based pioneers of the Movement. Of particular note is the group of furniture designed by Charles Voysey for Mr and Mrs Ward Higgs.

At the turn of the century several designers moved to the Cotswolds. They were attracted by the remoteness of the region, the romantic appeal of its hills, valleys and stone-built villages, and the partial survival of traditional building crafts.

A great variety of Cotswold Arts and Crafts is on display, ranging from leather panels, elaborate cabinets, silver and jewellery by Charles Ashbee's Guild of Handicraft based at Chipping Campden to the more simple pieces in wood and metal designed by Ernest Gimson and Sidney and Ernest Barnsley. There is also a room setting echoing the designers' homes at Sapperton.

The Gallery also features the work of less well-known Cotswold figures such as Alfred and Louise Powell, who hand-painted pottery for Wedgwood; carver, William Simmonds; and painters, William Rothenstein, Charles Gere and Dorothy Larcher.

The work of retail outlets such as Heal's and Liberty's is used to illustrate the way the Arts and Crafts style was adapted for the commercial market. In the 1930s, a more commercial approach was also taken by the firm of Russell & Sons in Broadway. The prime mover, Gordon Russell whose work is well-represented in the Gallery, wanted to make good design an affordable and essential part of everyday life.

Despite the impact of the First World War, the Movement led to a remarkable revival of craft skills in the Cotswolds. The display ends by showing its influence on some designer-makers from further afield, including Romney Green, Eric Sharpe, Edward Barnsley and Rod and Alison Wales.

The Emery Walker Library

Emery Walker (1851-1933) was a printer and book lover. He was the pivotal figure and inspiration behind the Private Press Movement in the late-19th and 20th centuries which contributed to the high standards of book design and typography still current today.

He first met the poet, designer and social reformer William Morris through the Socialist Movement. Their shared passions for books, architecture and design cemented a close friendship. It was Walker who introduced Morris to the possibilities of designing type and printing books. His technical expertise was crucial to the success of the Kelmscott Press founded by Morris in 1890.

The heart of the library consists of private press books and associated material from the Kelmscott, Doves and Ashendene Presses and other private presses in Britain, Europe and America. Some originate from the library of the architect Philip Webb who bequeathed them to his friend, Walker, on his death in 1915. Additional designs for letters, decorations and proof pages help to explain the creative process which produced these books. There are early books and incunabula which inspired Walker and Morris’s type and book design. It also includes a wide range of books covering Walker’s many interests including natural history, photography and printing, heraldry and architecture. What makes this library particularly special is the wealth of archive material – letters from friends and colleagues, press cuttings and photographs – originally filed by Walker inside the books.

Emery Walker’s library was acquired by Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum in 1990 for two reasons: it adds to the strength and breadth of the Arts & Crafts Movement collections and because of Walker’s personal connection with Gloucestershire. He visited the area regularly and in 1922 leased Daneway House near Cirencester until his death in 1933. The library was purchased by private treaty sale with the support of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the MGC/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the British Library, the Pilgrim Trust, the John Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust and the National Art Collections Fund.

Regular exhibitions are mounted using the library collections. Access to the library is available to accredited students by appointment. Please contact the Art Gallery & Museum by letter in the first instance.

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Open Monday – Wednesday / Friday – Saturday 9.30am – 5.15pm. Thursday 9.30am – 7.45pm. Sunday 11am – 4pm.
(Closed on 25 & 26 December, 1 January and Easter Sunday)

Admission free

Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum
Clarence Street
GL50 3JT
Tel: 01242 237431