Summary: over 300 works - 50% Victorian, 30% 20th century, 85% British artists with 40% landscapes, 25% portraits, remainder mixture of genre, still life and animal subjects.
The collection was built up slowly from 1903 through gifts and purchases using money from the rates. From 1921, an annual grant from the Massey Bequest Fund allowed the collection to grow more quickly with an average of two or three oil paintings bought each year for the next 40 years.Today there are over 300 oil paintings in the collection, the acquisitions being evenly divided between gifts and purchases plus around 20 paintings transferred from Burnley Central Library and Padiham Museum in the 1970s.
All the paintings can be seen at ART UK and in Oil Paintings in Public Ownership in Lancashire published by The Public Catalogue Foundation in 2013 (ISBN-13:978-1904931928). For more on the history of the oil paintings collection see the foreword to Towneley's PCF entry.
Around 40% of the paintings are always on display and a small number are regular loaned to other galleries. The best known, "Charles Townley and his Friends in the Townley Gallery" by Johann Zoffany, has often been loaned abroad, see Zoffany Loans.
Towneley has a commitment to collect works that complement the existing collection particularly work by local artists and works with relevance to Towneley Hall and the Towneley family. Limited funds are available for purchases and conservation of the existing collection takes priority. A rolling conservation programme is in place based on a conservation report produced by Lancashire Conservation Studios, Lancashire County Council Museum Service in July 2103.
The basic details for all the paintings are recorded in the Modes database. Index cards for each of the oil paintings were started in 1973 but have not been updated since 2007. Not all detailed information from the index cards has been added to the Modes database. History files relating to individual paintings are filed under the artist’s name in the artists files cabinet.