Abbot Hall possesses one of the finest collections of George Romney’s paintings in Britain. After serving his apprenticeship in Kendal he went on to become one of the most sought-after portrait painters of his age. The collection includes works from throughout his life, ranging from portraits painted during his early period in Kendal, to his 1776 masterpiece, The Gower Children painted after his move to London. Abbot Hall also has several of Romney’s sketchbooks and drawings, as well as a pastel portrait of the Romantic poet Charlotte Smith which was recently bequeathed to the gallery. On long term loan from a private collector is a striking oil sketch of Emma Hart as Miranda.
18th Century Paintings
Paintings from the 18th century are hung in the Georgian rooms on the ground floor so that they can be enjoyed in an appropriate setting. These include a very fine pair of views of Windermere by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg. In addition to paintings by George Romney, there is also an important group of work by another local artist, Daniel Gardner, as well as examples by Allan Ramsay and Thomas Lawrence.
18th & 19th Century Watercolours
The mid 18th century saw the emergence of the Lake District as a destination for tourists and artists on the Picturesque tour, and Abbot Hall has a significant collection of watercolours, mainly from the second half of the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries. Many of the greatest watercolourists of the period are represented, including J R Cozens, David Cox, Peter De Wint, John Sell Cotman, John Varley and Edward Lear. The landscape tradition reached its apogée in the 19th century with the work of J M W Turner, represented at Abbot Hall by his magnificent early watercolour The Passage of Mount St. Gothard and an 1821 watercolour, Windermere.
The Victorian art critic and social commentator, John Ruskin, lived in the Lake District at the end of his life, and Abbot Hall possesses one of the most comprehensive collections of his drawings and watercolours in the country. Only one drawing and one watercolour relate to the Lake District, with the remainder covering a wide range of subjects including natural history, mountains and topography in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France as well as Britain.
Modern and Contemporary Art
The modern collection concentrates more on painting than sculpture, although there are three-dimensional pieces by Barbara Hepworth, Jean Arp, and Elisabeth Frink.
There is good representation from the St Ives School with three works by Ben Nicholson as well as examples by Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost, Roger Hilton and Patrick Heron. Abbot Hall also has a significant group of Lake District works by the German refugee artist Kurt Schwitters, and still life paintings by Winifred Nicholson and the Scottish Colourist, S J Peploe.
Modern landscape paintings and works on paper by Gillies, Piper, Sutherland, Hitchens and Lowry, amongst others, reflect and build on the landscape theme of the 18th and 19th century watercolour collections. The gallery also has a strong collection of 20th century figure paintings and portraits, with significant works by Stanley Spencer, Victor Pasmore and David Bomberg.
In recent years Abbot Hall has been active in adding contemporary British works to its collection, including Bridget Riley, Frank Auerbach, Paula Rego, Richard Wentworth, Tony Bevan, Sean Scully and Celia Paul. There is also a growing collection of artist’s prints, including etchings by David Hockney, Paula Rego and Lucian Freud, lithographs by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Henry Moore and aquatints by Sean Scully.