Priceless: this is our collection!

The definitive list: Liz Waring at Millennium Galleries with a catalogue of every oil painting in ownership in Sheffiled
The definitive list: Liz Waring at Millennium Galleries with a catalogue of every oil painting in ownership in Sheffiled
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IN all, there are more than 2,400 paintings and, together, it is estimated they would sell for well over £1 million.

Some are by world famous artists like Renoir, Gauguin and Lowry, and others are the work of local boys-done-good such as Joe Scarborough. Several date back to the 16th century while a handful are just a few years old.

They feature national leaders, fairy tale characters, global capitals and the Hole In The Road.

But all these works have one thing in common.

They are all owned by you. By us. By Sheffield.

This is the city’s huge collection of publicly-owned oil paintings – and, for the first time ever, every one has been pulled out of storage, photographed and catalogued. Now, the results have been published in a remarkable new hardback which aims to make our art more accessible to us.

“It took four months in all,” says Liz Waring, who co-ordinated Museums Sheffield’s part in the project. “You don’t realise until you start doing something like this just how vast the collection is but it was worth every second.

“Sheffield has more than 2,400 paintings but because there is limited exhibition space only a small percentage can ever be shown at any one time. This book is a stunning way of ensuring everyone who wants to see every painting can do.”

The tome was the brainchild of The Public Catalogue Foundation, a London-based charity which is currently photographing every single oil painting in public ownership in the UK. The body has already produced similar compendiums for 39 other areas including Leeds, London, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Another 40 are planned.

Within the Sheffield collection – which is owned by bodies as varied as Museums Sheffield, the city council, the two universities, a couple of parish councils and The Children’s Hospital – famous works include Bassin du Jas de Bouffan by Paul Cezanne, Northern Race Meeting by LS Lowry, and, um, Hole In The Road by Anthony Lowe

Subjects, meanwhile, are everyone from Oliver Cromwell to Beatrix Potter’s Rabbit. Scenes depicted include a French market, a Venice sunset and a Halifax mill.

Sheffield, naturally, features prominently with dozens of steel factories, churches, squares and Pond Street bus station among the collection.

“One of the wonderful things is how varied the works are,” says Liz, curator of visual art with Museums Sheffield. “The book is largely in alphabetical order so the juxtaposition between styles, subjects and eras is incredible.”

If it is a remarkable project, it is also one which has taken some time to come to fruition – since 2005 to be exact.

That was when the PCF first approached Museums Sheffield with the idea.

“At that point we were in the middle of the renovation of Weston Park Museum so we had to say ‘We’d love to do this but in a couple of years,” explains Liz. “The photographs ended up being done in 2008 and then, because it’s a charitable work, it’s taken the remaining time to raise funds. Now we’re delighted with how it looks.”

As is the PCF itself.

“I’m essentially a big child and I just love picture books,” says founder Fred Hohler. “Which is exactly what these are.

“Once I pick one up I struggle to put it down – and that seems to be the feedback we’re getting from other people too.

“What inspired it? I was irritated there was no record of these publicly-owned paintings anywhere – even the Victoria and Albert Museum didn’t have a catalogue of its own collection – so I thought I better have a go at doing it myself. That’s why the charity was founded.

“The Sheffield collection is extremely rich and varied. The city has a long artistic history and its philanthropists have ensured it has a strong collection.

“These paintings provide a history of the city, too. It is a pre-photograph photograph album if you like. Not just of city people and scenes, but also other paintings which were considered important enough to keep here. It’s also a bloody good Christmas present, if I may say so.”

Oil Paintings In Public Ownership in South Yorkshire: Sheffield is available from the Millennium Gallery or via the PCF on 020 7600 2920 or at £35.

How we own them

OIL paintings come into city ownership in a variety of ways.

Much of Sheffield’s collection was bequeathed by two men: philanthropists John George Graves and John Newton Mappin.

Both were successful businessmen – Graves with a postal company and Mappin through his brewery – and both believed art could inspire the populace.

Other paintings have come to the city through bequests, donations and, sometimes, in lieu of taxation.

Small acquisition funds have, in the past, been set aside to buy certain items.

The paintings are currently in a variety of locations.

Bodies which look after them include the city council, parish councils, courts, hospitals, museums and libraries.