George Romney, The Gower Family, c1776-77

The Collection

Abbot Hall Art Gallery Collection

The collection at Abbot Hall Art Gallery consists predominantly of 18th and 20th century British paintings, due to the nature of the Georgian building and the history of the collection, which began in the 1960s. There is also a significant collection of 19th century watercolours by artists such as J R Cozens, David Cox, Peter De Wint, JMW Turner, John Sell Cotman, John Varley and Edward Lear.

Abbot Hall was designed by architect John Carr of York in 1759. On the ground floor, there are original period rooms, which act as an opulent backdrop to the fine and decorative art collection. On the first floor modern galleries can be found, showcasing a range of exhibitions from the permanent collection, and on loan from other organisations and private collections.

Below is a summary of major areas of the collection and what can be viewed today.

George Romney (1734-1802)

Abbot Hall Art Gallery possesses a significant collection of works by George Romney. 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.

A number of works by Romney can be seen in the Dining Room and Saloon on the ground floor of the Gallery, including a striking oil sketch of Emma Hart as Miranda, which is on long-term loan from a private collection. There are also several works on display by contemporaries of Romney, including Sir Thomas Lawrence and Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg

John Ruskin (1819-1900)

The Victorian art critic and social commentator, John Ruskin, lived in the Lake District at the end of his life, and Abbot Hall Art Gallery possesses one of the most comprehensive collections of his drawings and watercolours in the country. There is currently a small display of nine works by Ruskin in the Watercolour Gallery. The display features studies made for his book The Stones of Venice and on excursions in France, Scotland and at home in Coniston.

For more information about Ruskin click here. ( )

Modern and Contemporary Art

The modern collection concentrates more on painting than sculpture, although there are three-dimensional pieces, including a work by Barbara Hepworth, which is on display in the Oval, outside Abbot Hall Art Gallery.

There is good representation from the St Ives School with works by Ben Nicholson (one is currently on display), 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. There is currently a display of works by Kurt Schwitters on the ground floor of the Gallery.

Modern landscape paintings and works on paper are displayed on the first floor by artists such as John Piper, Paul Nash, Bridget Riley and Hughie O’Donoughue.
In recent years Abbot Hall Art Gallery has been active in adding contemporary British works to its collection, including Frank Auerbach, Paula Rego, Tony Bevan, and Celia Paul. There is also a growing collection of artist’s prints, including etchings by David Hockney and Lucian Freud, lithographs by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Henry Moore and aquatints by Sean Scully.

Please note that Abbot Hall Art Gallery has a large collection and changes displays regularly. Not all artists mentioned above will have works on display.

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  • George Romney, The Gower Family, c1776-77