What’s in Store

Andrew Ellis introduces a huge on-going project to publish a series of catalogues showing every oil painting in public ownership in the United Kingdom.

The walls of the fire station in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, boast a nineteenth-century painting depicting a heroic fire brigade officer passing to anxious parents in evening dress their children rescued from a fire. The work is by William George Home Rosenberg, who exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1871 and 84. It appears in the forthcoming catalogue, Oil Paintings in Public Ownership in Hampshire: Southampton and the Isle of Wight, and although it is the only one from a fire station in this volume, the Public Catalogue Found­ation has photographed a number of other paintings in fire stations around the country since the start of the project in 2003.

Fire stations are but a small part of the work of the Foundation, which is cata­loguing all oil paintings in public ownership in the UK: in national and regional museums, univer­sities, hospitals, council buildings, council libraries and police stations. It includes paintings that are on view and those in store, paintings hanging on the walls of councillors’ offices, behind librarians’ desks, in obstetrics wards and in university common rooms. It includes a painting screwed through its centre to the wall of a Corn­ish fire station, works hang­ing in a West Sussex crem­atorium and a canvas scarred by shrapnel from a German naval attack on Scarborough during the First World War.

No one knows for certain how many oil paintings there are in public ownership. At the end of this project the Foundation will have a pretty good idea but for now we estimate that there are prob­ably in excess of 150,000. However, counting them is not our focus. Instead, our charity is providing access to paintings we all own but in most cases never see: around 80 per cent of these works are in storage or in civic buildings not open to the public.

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