The Public Catalogue Foundation is now known as Art UK. It was founded to enable the public to see images of all the approximately 210,000 oil paintings in public ownership in the United Kingdom. Originally the paintings were made accessible through a series of affordable book catalogues. Towneley's oil paintings were published in Oil Paintings in Public Ownership in Lancashire published by the PCF in 2013 (ISBN-13:978-1904931928).
Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museums
Towneley was the home of the Towneley family for over 500 years but in 1901 it was sold to Burnley Corporation and today is the town’s Art Gallery and Museum run and owned by Burnley Borough Council. The family left in March 1902 leaving behind a building almost completely empty except for a couple of tables and a few pictures in the chapel. The gardens were opened as a public park in June 1902 and in May 1903 the entrance hall and the south wing of the house were opened for a loan exhibition of paintings.
The collection of oil paintings was built up first through gifts and purchases using money from the rates. In 1921, an annual income was made available from the bequest of a local brewer, Edward Stocks Massey (1850-1909), to be used "for the advancement of art at Towneley Hall". 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.
The early purchase policy, implemented by a committee of the town council together with co-opted volunteers, was to build up a collection of works by established British artists within a limited budget. The long-term aim was to be no longer reliant on loan exhibitions. The most successful of the early acquisitions was "Destiny" by John William Waterhouse. In 1908, a purpose built art gallery was established on the top floor of the north wing, removing the old bedrooms and installing new and higher roofs with glazing to provide top light for viewing the paintings beneath. By 1912, the committee were themselves able to loan out paintings for exhibition elsewhere.
The annual grant from the Massey Bequest Fund, beginning in 1921, allowed the collection to grow more quickly with an average of two or three oil paintings bought each year for the next 40 years. The bequest fund also helped to furnish the place as a country house with ceramics and furniture to complement the fine art collections. Money from the Massey Bequest allowed the Whalley Abbey vestments to be purchased at auction in 1922. These High Mass vestments, made for Whalley Abbey around 1425, were brought to Towneley for safekeeping by Sir John Towneley (1473-1540) around 1537 and remained there for over 360 years until 1902.
A further family auction in 1939 allowed the return of Towneley's most famous painting "Charles Townley and his Friends in the Townley Gallery" by Johann Zoffany, purchased with help from the National Art Collection Fund. In the 19th century there were over 130 family portraits on display at Towneley and today around a dozen have returned including "John and Mary Towneley and Family" painted by an unknown artist in 1601.
In the first 30 years, most acquisitions, both gifts and purchases, were products of the second half of the 19th century. The main subjects were landscapes and history paintings. The committee was as careful in the acceptance of gifts as in selecting purchases and those accepted, such as the popular "The Sun had closed the Winter's Day" by Joseph Farquharson, were often accepted on loan for several years before being acquired permanently. In 1923, the remaining bedrooms on the top floor of the north wing were replaced by a watercolour gallery. This was opened by Lord Leverhulme, who also made a gift of "Wood Nymphs" by Edward Burne-Jones.
One important purchase, in 1925, arose from a bequest of £1,000 from a local man, Caleb Thornber. Up to this point, no single purchase by the Art Gallery committee had cost more than £500. They decided to use this bequest to buy one outstanding painting and Richard Haworth's of Blackburn satisfied this desire by offering "The Picture Gallery" by Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema. In 1933, purchases were made at the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition and then, in response to a visitor's suggestion, "Smile" and "His Favourite" by Charles Spencelayh were purchased from the artist. The committee went on later in the 1930s to collect work from the first half of the 19th century by artists such as Davis Cox, Philip Reinagle and James Ward.
Richard Haworth's of Blackburn helped to improve the quality of the collection between 1948 and 1953, offering each year a range of important genre and history paintings including "Life in the Hop Garden" by Phoebus Levin, "St. Mark's, Venice" by Adolf Echtler, "Harmony" by Frank Dicksee, and "On The Temple Steps" by Sir Edward Poynter. They also provided something completely different in 1950 with a late 16th century continental work "The Building of the Tower of Babel" by Marten van Valkenborch. The 40-year pursuit of a balanced collection of oil paintings concluded with the purchase of portraits by Sir Peter Lely, Thomas Hudson and Sir William Beechey. These portraits were selected more to furnish the house than to enhance the art gallery. Today about half of the oil paintings are on public display in most of the rooms around the house.
From the 1970s onwards the purchase policy has been to collect works by professional artists from the local region, works of local topography or works with Towneley family connections. Towneley Hall still receives money each year from the Massey bequest although in relative terms this cannot buy as much as in earlier years due to the great increase in the price of objects at auction. Now in the 21st century, the main concern is the conservation of those objects acquired in the 20th century.