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History of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery opened on 28 November 1885. Birmingham’s citizens had campaigned for a Corporation Art Gallery for over 40 years. The generosity of manufacturers such as Thomas Clarkson Osler, Richard and George Tangye, and mayors Joseph and Richard Chamberlain, secured the art gallery for the town.  

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s collections were formed from the late 1860s onwards, with the intention of providing models of excellence to educate and inspire Birmingham’s craftspeople and industrialists. 

During the Victorian period a major international collection of metalwork was developed, particularly from South Asia, Japan, Britain and Northern Europe. Objects reflecting European Renaissance design were also collected, along with ceramics from South America and the ancient world, South Asian textiles and European architectural sculpture. Whilst the majority were purchased, there were also major gifts, notably the Tangye collection of Wedgwood and John Feeney’s gifts of industrial and decorative art from around the world.

John Feeney (1839-1905), proprietor of the Birmingham Daily Post, was a major civic benefactor. His generosity made possible the extension of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery in 1912. This increased the number of galleries from four to 40, providing new spaces for the museum’s growing collection.

Today the museums service continues to be supported by the Friends of Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, the Public Picture Gallery Fund and many other grant-giving agencies. Their financial assistance is essential to the development of the collections, exhibitions, community engagement projects, education and research.