Front of the Gallery

About the Collection

European and North American Decorative Arts

The collection of European decorative arts consists of around 2000 objects ranging in date from the late sixteenth century to the present, and (as with the oil paintings) with a decidedly British bias. It includes furniture, textiles, metalwork, jewellery, ceramics, glass and wallpapers. Although a few European decorative arts objects were acquired during the last decade of the nineteenth century, serious collecting in this area commenced with the 1904 purchases – under the bequest of Dr Morgan Thomas – of several hundred contemporary and historical British (and a few French) ceramics, along with some glassware. The next purchase was an outstanding selection of Arts and Crafts objects, mostly metalwork, bought from the New Zealand International Exhibition in 1907, and including major works by C.R. Ashbee, Richard Garbe, Alexander Fisher and Arthur Gaskin. Sir Samuel Way’s bequest in 1916 contained many historical works, including a clock by Thomas Tompion, and changed the emphasis of the collection to include several objects from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The most significant single decorative arts purchase of this early collecting period was a splendid Morris & Company tapestry, The Adoration of the Magi, in 1917. In the late 1940s systematic purchasing commenced, initially with contemporary Scandinavian glass and seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British furniture. These purchases continued to be augmented by gifts from many donors, in particular Gladys Penfold Hyland, who in 1964 presented, along with paintings, a fine collection of British porcelain, furniture and silver, including a rare late sixteenth-century standing salt.

Since the 1970s donations from many private collections have considerably enriched the holdings. These include British ceramics, furniture, textiles, silver and glass. Purchases in the 1980s of a group of Bloomsbury objects from the Omega Workshops and furniture by Carlo Bugatti and Memphis broadened the collection. Since the 1990s, the collection has been greatly enriched through numerous gifts and a few purchases of works from the British Arts and Crafts Movement – most notably of Morris & Company furnishing textiles, embroideries and wallpapers. Purchases of stained glass by Tiffany & Co., silver by Paul Storr and Christopher Dresser, and furniture by the influential designers – Charles Rennie Macintosh, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcel Breuer, Gerrit Rietveld, and by the Regency cabinet-maker George Bullock – form part of a general policy to add to the collection with outstanding representative examples suitable for permanent display.