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“My fervent desire is, and my Executors’ aim shall be the furtherance and encouragement of Art in the town of my adoption – Southampton. I therefore bequeath the whole of my collection of oil paintings, watercolour drawings and engravings to my Executors for the public exhibition in Southampton… I authorise my Executors to build an art gallery which shall be free to the public…”
Robert Chipperfield, Last Will and Testament, 1911
Southampton’s fine art collection currently holds over 5,300 works and to this day continues to grow through gifts and bequests. The City’s holdings of modern British art are considered to be amongst the finest in the UK outside of London, in no small part due to exceptional individual acts of generosity and a rigorous acquisitions policy.
The collection is able to tell the story of western art from the Renaissance to the present day with important holdings of 18th and 19th century British painting, examples of 17th-Century Dutch, French and Italian Baroque, French impressionist works and a small selection of Renaissance paintings. Most significant is the Gallery’s collection of 20th-Century British art, starting with post impressionism and including Surrealism and the St Ives-based abstract artists. The collection of contemporary art since the 1970s is outstanding and includes many Turner prize artists. In 1998 the government ‘designated’ the permanent collection as having pre-eminent national significance.
The foundation for an art gallery in Southampton was laid out in 1911 in the will of Robert Chipperfield, a local pharmacist, Southampton councillor and Justice of the Peace. Importantly the will established a trust fund for the purchase of works of art and stipulated that the money could only be spent after consultation with the Director of the National Gallery. A further bequest fund was added from the will of another councillor, Frederick William Smith in 1925, exclusively for the purchase of paintings.
In 1939 the collection moved to its permanent home in the Civic Centre building, designed by the Architect E. Berry Webber. The gallery has since been able to acquire works by its own private means through various bequest funds and with the generous assistance of various grant giving bodies. There have also been several significant bequests: by Arthur Jeffress (1961), Dr David and Liza Brown (2002) and most recently the Schlee bequest of over 100 prints, drawings and paintings (2013).
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The gallery is one of Southampton's premier visitor attractions.