The history of the Ferens Art Gallery


After its refurbishment earlier this year, the Ferens Art Gallery has become a focal point for Hull UK City of Culture 2017 celebrations.

Today, we’re looking at the collection’s history and heritage.

The Ferens hasn’t always been situated in the central location of Queen Victoria Square that we know today. In fact, an early curation of paintings was originally kept on the top floor of the Municipal Museum on Albion Street.

These artworks were owned by Hull Corporation, which we refer to nowadays as Hull City Council. In 1902, the city was gifted a permanent collection of art by the Hull Society of Arts. A few years later, philanthropist Thomas Robinson Ferens contributed £5,000 towards purchasing art for Hull.

Ferens was a Member of Parliament for Hull East for over 13 years. He had strong connections with the city, regularly assisting businesses, donating significant funds to the University College (now the University of Hull), and investing in local schools and hospitals.

Ferens was not happy with the display space on Albion Street, so set about creating a purpose-built gallery. He chose to dedicate a small suite of rooms above the newly constructed City Hall to the rapidly growing collection. These were later called the Victoria Galleries.

Inevitably, these rooms were soon full to the brim of paintings and objects from the Municipal Museum. In 1917, Ferens ramped up his crusade to build a larger gallery for the works to be housed.

A redundant church that dated back to post-Reformation 1792 was purchased by the industrialist and demolished a couple of years later, making way for a brand new exhibition space. He generously donated £35,000 towards the project.

A competition was held to design Hull’s latest structure. Out of an incredible 79 submissions, it was decided that architects S.N. Cooke and E.C. Davies would plan the build.

The construction finally commenced in 1926. On 13 October, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) laid the Ferens Art Gallery’s foundation stone. Edward also visited an array of factories and organisations in Hull during his two-day tour of the city. His stay attracted a lot of attention from the locals, with around 200,000 leaving their homes to catch a glimpse of him.

The gallery’s erection was carried out by local firm G.H. Panton & Sons. The same company had completed Hull City Hall a decade or so earlier.

Cooke and Davis, went with a classical style for the new build, emulating the ancient Greeks with interior columns, a pediment doorway, and ornate lion statues guarding the entrance.

You can still see the Portland stone and grey mottled Bianco del Mare marble as you walk in. These materials were almost lost at sea, as it journeyed from Italy to the Humber region.

Today, the Corinthian structure stands proudly in the centre of the city, providing a safe home for world-class masterpieces, local artwork and unique sculptures.

You can visit the Ferens Art Gallery for free 10am-5pm Monday to Wednesday, 10am-7:30pm Thursday, 10am-5pm Friday and Saturday and 11am-4:30pm Sunday.

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