David Hockney work and Norman Cornish painting among art treasures held in storage in Sunderland and Durham

Work by David Hockney, Norman Cornish and pre-raphialite artist Dante Rossetti are among the art treasures held in storage Sunderland and Durham councils.

Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 11:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 6:39 pm
Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, Mowbray Park, Sunderland.

Thousands of paintings, ceramics, sculptures and other works are held in the stores of North East museums and galleries, and a Freedom of Information request has lifted the lid on what is kept behind the scenes.

Sunderland has 7,416 items in storage, including two chalk on paper studies of the human head by pre-raphialite artist Dante Rossetti, and a poster of the 1972 Munich Olympics designed by David Hockney.

Hockney was an important contributor to the pop art movement of the 1960s and he is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century.

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Sunderland City councillor John Kelly, cabinet member for communities and culture said, art is regularly rotated with work being underway to create a new learning and activity space in the museum.

He also pointed out that archived work can be viewed online at the Art UK website.

“We’re very proud of Sunderland’s large art collection which is managed and cared for by Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens,” he said.

“The museum and gardens are one of the five most visited attractions in the North East and, on behalf of the City Council and city residents, the museum collection includes more than 500 oil paintings.”

Durham County Council has 75 works of art in storage including an oil on canvas of Berkshire Woods, by British landscape painter John Nash who died in 1977.

Also in the collection is a pencil drawing titled ‘Anne’ by celebrated ‘pitman painter’ Norman Cornish.

Cornish, who died in 2014, was the last surviving member of the “Pitman’s Academy” art school at Spennymoor. A former miner, he was known for his pictures of mining community life.

The authority also holds a colour lithograph of seated figures by celebrated sculptor Henry Moore.

‘Worrying trend’

Keeping such works in store has, however, attracted criticism from the Tax Payer’s Alliance, which slated councils for keeping items in store at a time when millions were being cut from local authority budgets.

John O’Connell, chief executive of the Alliance, said called on council chiefs to reduce the size of their collections and put more works on display.

“These figures are truly staggering and demonstrate a worrying trend across the public sector,” he said.

“It is indeed the case that some councils are bequeathed these artworks, but the breadth of artists nevertheless suggests huge outlays of taxpayers’ cash.

“At the very least, councils should put all of these works on display, and then seek to reduce the size of the collection for the benefit of taxpayers in the North East.”

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‘It’s important cultural heritage is not lost for our children and grandchildren’

Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums manages museum collections on behalf of Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Gateshead Councils as well as the Sunderland City Council archive.

Iain Watson, director, said stored collections are an important resource for scholars and community groups.

He said: “All paintings in TWAM collections are available for viewers on the Art UK website and we also organise tours of stores as well as rotating works onto display – in particular watercolours where conservation requirements limit the amount of time the items can be on display.

“TWAM works with partners to ensure a mix of public funding and self-generated income to support collections for present and future generations.

“All of us are only temporary custodians and it is essential that we maintain this public funding and collection of paintings to ensure this important cultural heritage is not lost for our children and grandchildren.

“In making any decisions on disposal the TWAM Strategic Board ensure compliance with the Museums Association’s Code of Ethics – failure to comply can result in loss of accreditation as a museum and significant loss of funding.”