Art of Down: Fine Art Collection of Down County Museum

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The art collection grew slowly in the early years but as the Museum site was developed, the collection expanded due to the generosity of local people. Many local residents gave pieces; 17 works were given by a single family (the Moore family of Killough). A number of artists, such as Richard Croft, Lydia de Burgh, Betty McCord and Jim Manley, also generously donated examples of their work. [caption id="attachment_30809" align="alignleft" width="326" caption="Edward Southwell"][/caption] As additional funding became available in the 1990’s from organisations like the Friends of Down County Museum, the Northern Ireland Museums Council, Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund, Esmé Mitchell Trust, Friends of the National Collections of Ireland and the Haverty Trust, more works were purchased. Two very special works, which have recently been acquired in this way, are a sculpture, Girl and Her Shadow, by F.E. McWilliam and a portrait of Edward Southwell, attributed to Sir Godfrey Kneller. As with the rest of the collection, works of art relate in some way to County Down, whether landscapes or portraits, or in some cases, abstract works by local artists. A few paintings were accepted because they help to demonstrate the development of art in Ireland. Some artists, such as Barbara Allen, David Evans, Les Jones and Carmelita Rogers, were specially commissioned to illustrate particular scenes or buildings. Along with this strong local interest, many works, such as those by William Conor, Oisin Kelly, F E McWilliam, Colin Middleton, Andrew Nicholl and Sir John Lavery, are also of national significance. As a group, the collection is balanced between amateur and professional artists, historic and contemporary, with the result that the Museum now has a unique (if perhaps eclectic!) mix of works. [caption id="attachment_30821" align="alignright" width="201" caption="Girl and Her Shadow... by FE McWilliam. "][/caption] The new exhibition is open until Wednesday 18 December and admission is free. This year’s edition of the Down Survey, the yearbook of the museum, will be a catalogue of the Museum’s fine art collection. The publication which will be available from the end of November will list every work in the collection fully described and illustrated. It will make an ideal gift for all those with an interest in art and local scenes. F.E. McWilliam (1909-92) Girl and Her Shadow (1969) Bronze sculpture Bequeathed by Ann Forsdyke through the Art Fund, 2009.

This is the second sculpture by Banbridge-born McWilliam to be acquired by the museum. He was one of the foremost Modernist sculptors of his day and this piece belongs to his ‘Girl’ series of bronzes of 1969 to 1971. It is on display, for the first time since it was acquired, in our new temporary exhibition, Art of Down.
Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723) Edward Southwell (1671-1730) (possibly 1705) Oil on canvas Purchased from the Southwell Trust, Downpatrick, 2011, with grant aid from the Art Fund and Northern Ireland Museums Council.

Born in Germany, Kneller studied in Amsterdam, Rome and Venice before moving to London in 1676. In time, he became the most renowned court and society portrait painter of his age, serving under five monarchs. Kneller was a close friend of the Southwell’s and painted several members of the family.

Mike King, Down County Museum Curator, Peadar Curram Museum Photographer.Technician, Lesley Simpson, Museum Keeper of Collections and Madelaine McAllister, Assistant Keeper look over a painting ready for viewing at the new art exhibition at the Museum.

Edward Southwell acquired the Manor and town of Downpatrick through his marriage to Lady Elizabeth Cromwell in 1703 and although an absentee landlord, did much to improve the town by granting leases and promoting building works. You can see this work in the museum’s permanent exhibition.

Chris Dearden (b.1941)

Mourne Hayfield

Watercolour

Given by the Friends of Down County Museum, 2001, to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the museum.

Halifax-born Chris Dearden attended Huddersfield School of Art and worked as a textile designer in Bradford and Belfast for eighteen years, having moved to Northern Ireland in 1973. Around 1982, he took up painting full time and also became a teacher of watercolour painting (he now also teaches in oils).

This Mourne scene, which is typical of his fresh and lively watercolour style, has been selected for the front cover of the museum’s catalogue of fine art. This will be published at the end of November.

[caption id="attachment_30823" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Mourne Hayfield."][/caption] ]]>

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