helpful and apologetic

Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool

Back on the Public Art Collections in North-West England (by Edward Morris) campaign trail and to Blackpool. The Grundy Art Gallery in its present form was opened in 1911 and is named after the family of benefactors who motivated its foundation. Cuthbert and John Grundy were both amateur artist sons of Thomas, a local solicitor. Regular readers will note that these museums are usual set up local businessmen (Edward does too) though their inheritance was enough to sink £2000 towards the building costs, and further funds in 1938 to aid the building of an extension and two more display rooms. They’re commemorated by two busts in the entrance hall by John Millard, the picture(or in this case bronze) of Edwardian gents. One was a gift from John to his brother and the plaque reads ‘a token of fraternal affection and esteem’ – the other a retirement present I think.

So much I read on the train and saw for myself when I got there. Because this is where this review parts company with being a review since – um – the main display galleries were closed for refurbishment. Again. Or again as in again I’ve managed to reach one of these places when the decorators are in. I did check the website this time, but this information isn’t on the main page or the one with visitor information but rather for current exhibitions. Apparently there’s a disconnect between what the gallery ask to put up on the website and what’s actually uploaded by the local council, but a new website up dated by the gallery itself is soon forthcoming so that should be sorted out. But not quickly enough for me not to walk through the front door, see the A-ladder, the blankets on the floor and get a sinking feeling, confirmed by the attendant on the counter.

He was very helpful and apologetic and seems to also be the person who helps if not designs the shows when they’re on. He explained that on a good day (in other words in a fortnight when the refurbishment is due to be completed . . . so close . . .) only a fraction of the permanent collection is on show because rather than have a static display, the painting and sculpture selections are themed. Previously I’ve railed against this kind of thing, but lately I’ve come to the conclusion that if you do only have a couple of rooms to play with but a largish collection, it not only allows you to illuminate aspects of your holdings that might otherwise be ignored but also motivates repeat visits amongst your audience, who might otherwise stay away from a static some might say stagnant display.

I did manage to see one old: on the stairwell, attributed to John Everett Millais is The Pillar Box, in which a late-Victorian lady surreptitiously posts a letter, her eyes fixed ahead, as though trying to hide this secret missive. The atmosphere is suitably Dickensien, with ghostly figures loitering in darkened streets. Also at present in bijou upstairs gallery (though also undocumented by the website) is a small exhibition of images by photographer John Gay, of Blackpool in 1949. Originally taken for Country Fair Magazine, they’re a brilliant snapshot of the town at its prime, the beaches filled with holiday makers, either snoozing in the sun or oddly, being ministered to by The Salvation Army (there’s a shot of them teach the crowd to sing ‘All Things Bight and Beautiful’).

What strikes you immediately is that almost all of the shots have the tower in them somewhere, looming in the background, impressively underscoring the identity of the place (without, these beach scenes could have been taken anywhere along the coast). After I left the gallery, promising to return when it was fully opened, I walked towards the tower to have another look. Like the St John’s Beacon in the Liverpool it dominates the landscape though I’m inevitably and unfairly going to prefer the Eiffel. This seems a bit unloved in comparison and costs a whopping £17 to visit (though that does include the circus). Having spent my train fair going somewhere but ending up nowhere, I decided instead to content myself with marvelling at it from the outside:

Blackpool Tower

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