Viaduct, Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, Early Morning

This acrylic painting from the City’s collection is by Barbara Mary Russon, entitled Viaduct, Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, Early Morning. It is one of two pieces acquired by the City following an exhibition of Russon’s work at Worcester Art Gallery & Museum in 1978, the other being Blossom Time Along Staffs. & Worcs. Canal.

The painting was inspired by the decline of the industrial revolution, and if you look carefully at the left of the painting you will see the souls and skeletons of past workers disappearing into the viaduct opening.

The relationship between the natural and man-made landscape, and phases of industry and agriculture, is a predominant theme in many of Russon’s works. Russon was a Midlands artist and book illustrator who spent time in Sri Lanka and taught art in Wolverhampton.

Malvern Hills, 1940s by Charles Ginner (1878-1952)

This oil painting of the Malvern Hills from Worcester City’s collection demonstrates artist Charles Ginner signature style: the use of a small, regular touch of thick paint, a method that can give his paintings the appearance of densely worked embroidery. It also makes them very hard to photograph as the light bounces off the textured paint surface: like many impressionist paintings, this feels so much more alive when seen ‘in the flesh’.

Ginner was born in Cannes, France.  In 1904 he began to study painting at the Académie Vitti under Paul Gervais.  Unfortunately, Gervais disliked Ginner’s bright palette so much that the student was obliged to leave.  He settled in London in 1910 and became a founder member of the Camden Town Group which also included Duncan Grant and Walter Sickert.

In 1914 Ginner published a manifesto which advocated looking at nature with a more studied eye, the use of solid pigment, and the influence of Cezanne, Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists.  His paintings became more concerned with accurately observed form and he turned his attention from interiors to landscapes.


Cheltenham Parade, 1920s, by David Davies (1864-1939)

David Davies was particularly interested in the transparency of paint and he often used varnish as a medium to create a luminous feel.  He even experimented with varnishing pastel sketches to give a porcelain glaze appearance.

Davies was born in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, the son of a miner.  Both of his parents were from South Wales.

While still a student at the National Gallery Art School, he sold a painting to art collector James Oddie for a hundred guineas.  This sale enabled Davies to pursue his artistic studies abroad, and he left Melbourne late in 1890. He travelled to Paris, where he studied at the Academie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens.

Two years later, soon after their marriage in Paris, Davies and his wife, Janet, moved to Cornwall, where they mixed with the Newlyn artists’ colony.  After a period back in Australia, they went on to settle in Dieppe where both taught to fund their painting.

Occasionally during the 1920s, Davies visited his friend Richard Heyworth in Cheltenham and they painted together.  This picture was from one of these visits and was donated to Worcester City museum by Heyworth in 1937.

Herald of the Night

The Magic Hour is a phrase filmmakers use to describe the time as the sun sets or rises. Light diffracting further through the atmosphere appears soft and glowing and shadows become gentle and mysterious.

For the cameras of Los Angeles, California, the golden light only lasts for about thirty minutes and is particularly precious for filming. The effect is almost impossible to recreate with artificial lighting. In more northerly England the magic hour lasts longer with the intense oranges of sunset turning slowly into the blue of gloaming shown in this landscape (Herald of the Night, 1900s) from Worcester City’s collection by artist John Alfred Arnesby Brown.

Painters have always appreciated the qualities of sunlight, but it wasn’t until sketching rapidly outside became fashionable in the nineteenth century that many attempted changing sunset skies.

In 1815 Mount Tambora, a volcano in Indonesia, exploded with the world’s largest eruption for over sixteen hundred years. The ash in the atmosphere caused global temperatures to drop, harvests to fail, and the most spectacular sunsets. J.M.W. Turner’s sketches of these skies changed landscape painting forever. Turner was reputed to outline a picture, to do nothing for two or three days, then suddenly exclaim ‘there it is’ and seizing his paints, work rapidly to record the magic moment.

Art is the expression of the essence of life

Ronald O. Dunlop’s work has a very tactile quality using thick and rapid strokes of paint. Dunlop’s approach to painting was that it was an emotional and intimate process. He said that he tried to express his personality through his painterly style.

Dunlop was born in Dublin in 1894, into a family of artists and writers; he grew up surrounded by many seminal figures of early twentieth-century Irish literature. After the First World War, Dunlop worked in advertising in London whilst studying art. He founded the Emotionist Group in 1923 – a community of actors, writers, painters and philosophers, interested in expressing and manipulating the emotions of their art and their audience.

Many famous names considered themselves Emotionists, from playwright George Bernard Shaw to author Aldous Huxley to actress Peggy Ashcroft. In 1928 the group published a journal called Emotionism: Dunlop supplied the manifesto Art is the expression of the essence of life. This painting, Tugboats on the Thames, from Worcester City’s collection, dates to around this time.

The Romantic story of a Cabinet

The Victorians, loving a good story, believed this beautiful ebony and red tortoiseshell cabinet belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots. Now in the Royal Collection, it was thought that she brought it with her from France to Scotland. It was pictured in a portfolio of drawings by William Gibb, made in 1890 for an illustrated publication called The Royal House of Stuart, a copy of which is in Worcester City’s museum collection.

Mary, Queen of Scots’ life continues to fascinate, the subject of many books, film, music and TV series. With as much drama, love, intrigue and tragedy as any soap opera, her story formed an important background to the House of Stuart’s time on the English throne – the royal family whose privilege, entitlement and poor judgement led to the English Civil War.

Mary was the only surviving legitimate child of James V of Scotland on his death – she was only six days old. Her son would become James VI of Scotland, and then James I of England, succeeding Elizabeth I and uniting the thrones of England, Ireland and Scotland. His son, Charles I, was unable to retain agreement with his Parliament, bringing unrest and conflict to all three countries.

Crowned Queen of Scotland at just a few months old, Mary’s early years were a power struggle between Henry VIII of England and Henry II of France, both eager to unite their countries with Scotland through her marriage to their son. France managing the successful treaty, Mary’s youth was spent happily at the French court. Tragedy struck after her young husband died less than two years into their teenage marriage. 18-year-old Mary returned to Scotland and joined the many ambitious characters jostling to control the English throne. Her position was a threat to Elizabeth I and the next twenty-five years were fraught with manipulation, plotting and betrayal. Throughout, Mary maintained the luxury of royalty, surrounding herself with fine tapestries, bedlinen and silverware even while imprisoned. It’s unsurprising that she should be linked with this exquisite cabinet, with such beautiful heart-shaped decoration.

The Royal Collection’s research shows that the cabinet actually dates to the seventeenth century, and therefore was too late to belong to Mary, Queen of Scots herself. It can now be found in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official royal residence in Edinburgh.

Cows in a Field by Julian Trevelyan, 1935

Julian Trevelyan went to Cambridge University to study English Literature,  but at 21 headed for Paris where, in the early 1930s he learned printmaking skills in a studio alongside Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. Unsurprisingly, his early work was influenced by these great trailblazing artists.

During the Second World War, he served with the Royal Engineers as a camouflage officer in the North African desert. Initially, the British Army in Africa had only green European camouflage, which was not very effective. Trevelyan was part of the team that redesigned that standard camouflage to be suitable for the desert, and successfully hid operations from the German troops. This gouache painting in Worcester City’s collection, made a few years before the war, shows that Trevelyan was a good recruit for this role – his eye clearly saw the landscape as a selection of patterns.

From 1956 Trevelyan was Head of Printmaking at the Royal College of Art in London, where he taught many great British artists including David Hockney and R.B Kitaj.

Sabrina Thrown into the Severn by William Calder Marshall, 1880

This striking bronze sculpture has graced the City Art Gallery and Museum for ninety five years. Sabrina Thrown into the Severn by William Calder Marshall was made in 1880 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881.

Research by one of our curators, Garston Phillips, has traced its history from early in 1924 to the present day. It was reported in the Worcester Herald on Saturday 2 February 1924 that the Library and Museum Committee should accept the bronze group that the Trustees of the Marshalls wanted to gift to Worcester.

Mr Duckworth, the Librarian of the day, had been to see the sculpture in London and he described the principal figure as looking like the new Prime Minister, Ramsey MacDonald. It was agreed that it should come to Worcester by road and that Mr Bullock of Ombersley Road would bring it on his next journey from London.

Some years later, the City Corporation felt that the sculpture should be placed next to the river, as an appropriate place to display it but thanks to curatorial pressure, for conservation and security reasons, the sculpture still stands on the balcony of the Art Gallery and Museum.

The piece depicts a young girl being thrown into the river by a Celtic warrior. She was Sabre the child of Lochrine who had an affair with a Hunnish princess named Estrildis whilst he was engaged to Glendolen. Many years later Lochrine and Estrildis went to war with Glendolen. Winning the conflict, Glendolen ordered that Sabre be thrown into the river and drowned and that the river should be called the River Sabre or Sabrina so that the terrible deeds of Lochrine be remembered. It’s thought that the Sabre River, became the Sabern and eventually the Severn.

A Hidden Treasure Rescued

The Cockle Gatherers, by Arthur Hacker was for many years a hidden treasure in the Worcester City Museum Collection, its poor condition having meant it had not been on display for many years.

The son of a sporting-prints engraver, Hacker graduated from the Royal Academy Schools in 1880 and went on to study in Paris. One of his fellow pupils was Stanhope Forbes, whose greatest work Chadding on Mounts Bay is a firm favourite in Worcester’s collection. Like Forbes, Hacker developed a style that maintained the great large-scale traditions of Victorian high art with the expressionism of painting en plein air.

Hacker’s painting of French peasant life Her Daughter’s Legacy was the Royal Academy Exhibition’s greatest talking point in 1881. He was elected an Academician in 1910, by which time he was concentrating on a lucrative portrait painting practice with many well-known sitters. The Cockle Gatherers probably dates from about the turn of the twentieth century.

The painting’s varnish had changed considerably from Hacker’s application, turning very yellow through age and from being hung in rooms where smoking was allowed. Hacker’s painting definition was no longer able to be seen. A test section in the top right corner was cleaned and showed what a dramatic difference could be made. With the help of funding from Worcester City Art Gallery & Museums’ members, the whole painting was cleaned in 2018 and the canvas tear bottom right (previously held together with tissue) was repaired. A painting none of us had previously seen was revealed!

Before conservation in 2018