s History of the Ferens Art Gallery (part 1) - Hull Museums Collections

History of the Ferens Art Gallery (part 1)

Hull Corporation owned very few paintings before the start of the twentieth century, apart from civic portraits that were hung in the old Town Hall (now part of the Guildhall collection). The first paintings were given for the city's permanent collection in 1902 by the Hull Society of Arts and Sir Albert Rollit. In 1905, Thomas Robinson Ferens began contributing to the city's art collection by offering £5,000 in five annual instalments, for purchasing works of art.

The early collection of paintings was exhibited in the top floor of the Municipal Museum on Albion Street. Ferens was dissatisfied with the display space and began to campaign for a purpose built art gallery. In 1910 he opened a small suite of rooms, later known as the 'Victoria Galleries', above shops in the newly built City Hall. This new display space was gradually filled with works bought mainly by Ferens but also included a few works from the Municipal Museum. By 1917 Ferens felt that this gallery space was no longer sufficient and urged for a separate larger gallery to be built.

A site and a design for a new gallery

Ferens bought the redundant Church of St. John the Evangelist and offered the site for the construction of a new art gallery and gave 35,000 pounds towards the building costs. The church had been the first post-Reformation church to be built in Hull in 1792 and was last used in 1917. It was demolished during the first half of 1924.

It was decided to hold a competition to find suitable plans and designs for a new art gallery. Seventy nine designs were submitted, many of which were more ambitious than the funding that was available. The London-based architects S.N. Cooke and E.C. Davies were chosen and they also designed chairs and other furnishings for the gallery and court spaces.

Building Work commences

Work started on the building in 1926 and on 13th October of the same year, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, laid the gallery's foundation stone. This ceremony was part of a two day visit which also included visiting various factories and institutions across the city and a trip on the River Humber on the s.s. 'Brocklesby'. It is estimated that around 200,000 people turned out for the royal event.

The gallery was built by the local firm of G.H. Panton & Sons who had also been responsible for building the City Hall which was completed in 1910. The gallery was built in classical style, with interior columns and Greek key borders. There are also twin Corinthian columns, a pedimented doorway; a classical swag frieze and stone balustrading along the roofline at the front entrance. The main entrance door is made of bronze with cast lion ornaments. The gallery was built of Portland stone and the central and entrance hall were of a grey-coloured mottled marble called 'Bianco del Mare'. This marble was almost lost at sea due to fire on board ship on its way from Italy but fortunately, the ship was able to dock at Brest harbour and transfer its cargo to another boat that was bound for Hull.