Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery - Century

Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery marks its 100th anniversary this month with the opening of a brand-new exhibition

Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery marks its 100th anniversary this month with the opening of a brand-new exhibition

As well as providing a summary of the history of its building throughout the past 100 years, this exhibition, entitled ‘Century’, highlights all aspects of the Museum’s permanent collections with paintings, porcelain, silver, costume, natural history, domestic objects, world cultures and more on display.

Many of these items have been chosen by groups and individuals connected to the Museum. Members of staff have also selected their favourite objects and works of art. In total, the show contains nearly 100 artefacts and is divided into four main sections: ‘Notable’, ‘Beautiful’, ‘Personal’ and ‘Historical’. To whet your appetite, here’s a sneak preview of just a few of them!

‘Wally Bird’  

A group of four brothers working together in London during the Victorian period, the Martin Brothers produced many strange but wonderful ceramics in salt-glazed stoneware and were influenced by nature and natural forms. The Museum holds an interesting collection of art pottery from the early 1900s, including a number of ‘Wally Birds’ (left), one their most iconic designs.

Nancy Astor’s outfit

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At first glance, this two-piece black suit, cream shirt and hat look quite unassuming, but they’re connected to one of British politics’ most groundbreaking moments. Nancy Astor was MP for Plymouth Sutton from 1919-45, and this is the outfit she wore on the day she became the first woman to take up her seat in parliament (1 December 1919). The outfit will be shown alongside a painting by Charles Sims (opposite middle) depicting the very same event and has been conserved for the ‘Century’ exhibition thanks to funding support from the Daphne Bullard Trust and the Lord Mayor of Plymouth.

‘Napoleon on HMS Bellerophon in Plymouth Sound’

One of the most popular paintings in the Museum’s collections, this painting (above) by Jules Girardet depicts a dramatic event in Plymouth’s maritime history – a defeated Napoleon Bonaparte imprisoned on a British warship in Plymouth Sound with the citizens of Plymouth viewing him from their rowing boats. Napoleon was moored in the Sound for over a week before being transferred to HMS Northumberland and taken into exile on St Helena.

‘Kilchurn Castle, with the Cruachan Ben Mountains, Scotland: Noon’

Watercolour is notoriously prone to fading, but this particular work (opposite top right) from the Museum’s Fine Art collection is in pristine condition. It was painted by the great JMW Turner shortly after a tour of Scotland in 1801. Turner later made three visits to the South West in 1811, 1813 and 1814. Within a decade of these he had transformed the landscape painting tradition as a result of his work with light and colour.

Pickled marine specimens  

Pickled fish might not be to everyone’s taste, but the creatures living in Plymouth Sound can be both surprising and beautiful. The Museum cares for over 4,000 jars of wet-preserved creatures, the vast majority of which were transferred from the Marine Biological Association in 2001. They include seahorses, pink sea fans, crustaceans, sea urchins, starfish and tiny sea slugs – a selection of which will be on display in ‘Century’.

‘A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach’

Perhaps the finest painting of the Newlyn School (a colony of artists based in Newlyn, Cornwall, mainly between 1880 and 1930), this painting by Stanhope Forbes is the most admired artwork in the Museum’s collections. The painting (above left) demonstrates the ideals shared by the artists who painted scenes from real life in the open air. It also captures a time long gone – a record of the everyday lives of a Cornish community at rest and work in the late 1800s.

Mancala board

The words ‘mancala’, ‘oware’ and ‘ayo’ refer to a game of strategy that is widely played in various formats throughout the world. This ‘ayo’ (right) was made by the Yoruba people of West Africa and is a particularly fine example, probably one of the best in any museum in Britain. The pre-1938 board features intricately carved figures and representations of animals, and has been carved from a single piece of wood. It’s been coloured using black, white, yellow, red and blue pigments. This rich use of colour shows it was an item of high prestige that may have been used for symbolic purposes rather than as an everyday item.

Henry Moore Dauncey book

The Museum has approximately 3,700 objects in its World Cultures collection which contains several important groups of material. One of these is a group of objects collected by Henry Moore Dauncey who worked in New Guinea for the London Missionary Society between 1888 and 1928. The objects include musical instruments, figures, jewellery and weapons and have been described as one of the best collections of New Guinea material in Britain. Dauncey was very interested in the local culture and published this book in 1913, describing his working life and the respect he felt for the Papuan people. 


Century Celebrations

The Museum will be running a number of events alongside the ‘Century’ exhibition aimed at all ages and interests. These include a lunchtime talk on 19 October, family-friendly activities on 23 October and 28 October, ‘Art Bites’ tours on 23 October, 17 November, 15 December and 12 January, plus a Gala Concert on 29 October. For more details visit the ‘Events and activities’ section of

The exhibition will also be supported by a trail throughout the Museum building also featuring objects and artworks selected by groups and individuals.

‘Centenary’ runs from 23 October – 29 January. Open 10am-5.30pm, Tuesday to Friday; 10am-5pm Saturdays. Closed 25 December – 4 January. Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AJ., 01752 304774.

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