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Collection Summary

Collection Title
Fine Art Collection
The museum has a large and important fine art collection. Most notably, there is the remarkable Cottonian collection, comprising small groups of ceramics, bronzes and paintings, several hundred old master and English drawings and watercolours, and a substantial body of several thousand fine and rare prints. In addition, there is a library of some 2000 volumes. This is the major strength of the museum and the collection is designated for its pre-eminent importance.

Alongside the Cottonian collection, there are other important groups of work. There are paintings and drawings by the Plymouth artist Benjamin Robert Haydon; drawings and prints by the Plymouth artist Samuel Prout (1783-1852); and material by Plymouth artist Sir Joshus Reynolds is a strength, containing memorabilia as well as art works.

The greater part of the painting collection is English from the 18th to 20th centuries, although there are Italian, French, Dutch and English paintings from the 16th to 19th centuries.

There is a bias towards artists from Plymouth and its locality, and many topographical views from the 17th century to the present. There are many marine paintings. There is good representation of the Newlyn School of Artists, including works by Stanhope A Forbes, J Noble Barlow, Norman Garstin, Walter Langley, Henry Tuke and R H Carter. Also the Camden Town Group, including works by Ginner, Gore, Gilman, Bevan, Pissaro and Drummond. 20th century West Country artists are strongly represented in the collections, with work of many of the artists residing in St Ives and elsewhere in the region, including Peter Lanyon, Roger Hilton, Terry Frost and Patrick Heron.

Watercolours and drawings are well represented in the collection, with the earlier works of 16th to 18th century date being mainly of continental origin. By far the largest single group is composed of 18th and 19th century English watercolours, with a small number of 20th century works principally of local origin. Although there are not many 18th century watercolours, there are a few important works by artists such as J M W Turner. There is a series of late 19th century English and French drawings by artists such as George Clausen, John Everett Millais, Sir E C Burne-Jones, Jena-Francios Millet, Jean Louis Forain and Edgar Degas. Local topographical watercolours are also held by artists such as Samuel Prout and Philip Mitchell. The later 20th century is represented by works by Claude Muncaster and John Piper.

The collection of prints is extensive and important, comprising many fine and rare works from the 16th to 18th centuries, through to 19th century topographical engravings and 20th century works by some of the leading contemporary exponents of the art. They encompass a wide range of media from etchings, mezzotints, engravings and lithography, to examples of modern screenprinting and photolithographic techniques, presenting a full history of the print.

Aspects of the print collection are described with the Cottonian collection, though in addition to that collection, there is an important group of topographical views of Plymouth and the south west generally and a growing series of prints by contemporary British and other printmakers.

There is a modest collection of sculpture and bronzes, the earlier material chiefly in the Cottonian collection, though later work by Jacob Epstein and Barbara Hepworth is held. There is a small, but attractive, group of largely 18th and 19th century miniatures including two by Richard Cosway.

The Newlyn School collection
Camden Town Group collection
20th century West Country artists.
This is a truly remarkable collection of art, amassed by several generations of the Cotton family, though begun by Charles Rogers (1711-1784) in the 1740s who collected a substantial quantity of early prints and drawings. The collection was bequeathed to the City of Plymouth by William Cotton (1749-1863) of Ivybridge in 1863 and transferred to Plymouth Corporation in 1916 by an Act of Parliament. The collection comprises ceramics, bronzes, a library, paintings, watercolours, drawings and prints, and amounts to nearly 10,000 individual items. A unique aspect of the collection is its survival (albeit depleted by a 1799 auction) through three centuries of private owners and two periods on institutional ownership after the original collector. This fact, together with the survival of an archive of associated papers makes the collection as a whole a document of immense historic value. The print collection alone numbers over 6,000 items and is one of the finest existing collections representing many of the finest prits made in England, France, Italy and Germany between the 16th and 19th centuries. Highlights of the print collection include rare and important etchings by the German printmaker Albrecht Altdorfer. The prints are groups largely by school or subject and mounted in a series of large volumes. Paintings in the collection comprise important Italian, French, Dutch and English works from the 16th to 19th centuries. There is a very important group of old master and English drawings of teh 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries, including examples of the Italian, Dutch, French and English schools, by artists such as Giorgio Vasari and Filippo Napoletano and many others. 18th century watercolours are represented by rare works by artists such as Paul Sandby. Bronzes in the collection are European and of 17th and 18th century date. Unusually, the art collection has associated with it an extensive archive of original letters, business and domestic account books, sale catalogues, wills, pedigrees, Custom House data and contemporary pamphlets and broadsheets, all giving an insight into the personalities and social world of those who created the Cottonian collection and their families. The papers cover the Townson, Rogers and Cotton families, many of which are of domestic interest. The museum holds a significant group of paintings and a number of documents and memorabilia relating to the Plymouth artist Sir Joshua Reynolds. These include: four family portraits; six other portraits; engraved works, both loose and in volume; various copies of the discourses; a small number of letters; his palatte and painting stick; and a sitter book for 1755.
Date range of collection
Accumulation Dates
Suggested Audience
Not Specific
Associated People or Organisations
Associated Places
Associated Times

Location Details

Plymouth City Museum And Art Gallery
Drake Circus Plymouth PL4 8AJ
Open Map
01752 304 774
01752 304 775 
Building Information
Grade II
Collections Overview
This museum is designated for the pre-eminent importance of the Cottonian art collection. Its other collections are both important and wide-ranging in content, as befits a city museum which has been in existence for more than a century.
Star Objects
The Cottonian collection.
For details of other collections held at the same location: See the location record

Additional Collection Information

Related Publications
Management Information (Type)
Collection Owner(s)
Collection Creator(s)
Collection Custodians(s)
Associated Collection(s)

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