This gallery showcases our art collection and provides a place to look, discuss, question, and engage with Plymouth's rich history of art. The region’s most famous artist, Joshua Reynolds, once said:
A room filled with pictures is a room filled with thoughts
As you enter the gallery, you are greeted by a grand display of paintings that represent over 400 years of artists painting Plymouth. The paintings follow the coastline from the River Plym to the River Tamar and provide a varied vista of Plymouth through the eyes of artists across the centuries. They include some of the earliest existing depictions of Plymouth—small sketches and watercolours that date from the 1600s.
Across from the visual panorama of Plymouth is a showcase of three centuries of artistic production from the South West. Reynolds set up his first studio in Plymouth, going on to found the Royal Academy of Art and become one of the most important portrait painters of the 1700s. 200 years later, Robert Lenkiewicz had several studios in Plymouth’s historic Barbican area where he painted the city’s characters. Artists like Stanhope Forbes and Barbara Hepworth were drawn to the South West by the luminous quality of coastal light and were key figures in the Newlyn and St Ives artist colonies, which steered the course of nineteenth and twentieth-century British art.
Once you have taken a visual journey around Plymouth and the South West, explore the breadth of our decorative arts collection in a mass display of over 350 objects. From Plymouth to the world, from the everyday to the very unusual, some functional and some very experimental, these ceramic, glass, silver, silk, wool and wood objects tell the story of makers looking to innovate. Learn about Plymouth’s greatest experimenter, William Cookworthy, who was the first person in the UK to discover the formula for true (hard-paste) porcelain and founded the Plymouth Porcelain Factory. Discover tales of travel, invention, curiosity and creativity that span almost 500 years and 5,000 miles.