Vernon Park Museum was purpose built in 1860 when two Stockport MP’s James Kershaw and John Benjamin Smith each gave £500 towards Stockport Museum being built within the grounds of Vernon Park. Smith had purchased 47 paintings during his grand tour of Italy in the first half of the nineteenth century which he agreed to be placed on loan to the Museum and, with remarkable insight for the period, insisted ‘that proper blinds be fitted to shield them from the sun’. When Smith died in 1879 these paintings became the core of Stockport’s fine art collection.
Unfortunately, we are all aware that Vernon Park Museum has now closed (read some past blog posts about that HERE) but that is not the end of the John Benjamin Smith collection!
The paintings were being stored at the Curatorial Services but are going to be part of an exhibition at Stockport Story Museum called ‘Saints and Sinners’ but first they required some TLC. Most of the painting being used depict Saints, religious scenes or scenes of misdoings, such as high way robberies, and were chosen for this very reason. However, perhaps due to their age some of the paintings chosen were in poor condition. The colours very dark, the paint deteriorating and some even had holes and rips in the canvas; quite large rips in some cases. This meant that they had to make a visit to the conservator and she did quite a bit of work to improve their quality over a few months before they returned to us.
Now some of Smith’s collection are on display again in ‘Saints and Sinners’ which is now open at Stockport Story Museum. The exhibition tells the story of the man behind the paintings, not only his history but the history he created for Stockport. His collection of paintings are explored, the stories they depict and the stories of the saints they show. Along side a bust of Smith and many items from the museums original collection, including botanical models, bird skins and minerals, the atmosphere created transports you right back to when saints and sinners were rife!
Not all of John Benjamin Smith’s collection is on display though, so for today’s Find it Friday here are some of the pieces he collected and then loaned to the museum over 150 years ago that are still here at the curatorial services. Hopefully these will whet your appetite and you will head on down to Stockport Story Museum for more! – ‘Saints and Sinners’ runs until October 2014.
Also, click HERE to read a bit more about one of Smith’s collection that is not going on display but was used for a past Find it Friday.
1. Pope Leo X with cardinals Guilio de Medici and Ludovico de Rosi.
2. Venetian scene.
3. ‘The Schoolroom’.