How to use the online gallery
Discover more about our Borough Art Collection.
To use the Borough Collection online search facility, follow the link to View the Borough Collection online.
Our art collection contains many fascinating artworks, despite its relatively compact size. Its home is Guildford House Gallery, an intriguing Seventeenth Century town house in Guildford High Street.
The council acquired the gallery building in 1957, and after restoration to much of its original appearance, the building opened as Guildford Borough Art Gallery in 1959.
Borough Art Collection
Today, Guildford House Gallery is well-known in Surrey and beyond for the borough collection and its exciting programme of temporary exhibitions. Annual visitor numbers regularly exceed 100,000 which makes it one of the most popular cultural destinations in Surrey.
The gallery was built as a private house for John Childe, a London attorney and three times Mayor of Guildford, in about 1660. Built in an early neo-classical style, it contains many fine original architectural period features, including wooden wall panelling, fine 17th century plaster ceilings, rare espagnolette iron window bolts and an ornately carved Restoration staircase with fruit, flower and acanthus leaf carving. The fine fittings of the house often surprise visitors and serve as an impressive backdrop to the borough collection.
The collection comprises more than 550 pieces and small collections. Many objects consist of multiple parts so the number of works comes close to 800. They span more than 250 years and include a plethora of media - oil paintings, watercolours, pastels, etchings, engravings, prints, textiles, ceramics, sculpture and glass.
In addition, there are interesting period furniture pieces on display within the gallery, including a 17th century court cupboard and a number of 17th and 18th century vernacular sideboards and chests of drawers. The oil paintings form only one facet of this exciting and varied collection.
The collection has been built up through gift, bequest and purchase over the past fifty years, and many of its historically most significant works have been acquired with assistance from national and local grant aid. New works are added to the collection every year. Most of the collection is not on continuous display. Instead, the works are integrated carefully into the gallery's varied exhibition programme. This temporary gallery display aids the preservation of the collection and allows the gallery to show as many objects as possible every year.
Many of the works are by local artists and those with a strong Guildford connection. Other pieces have associations with the Guildford area and Surrey. Guildford House Gallery is well-known for the many works it owns by Guildford's most famous son John Russell RA (1745-1806). He was pastel painter to King George III and his son, the Prince of Wales (later George IV).
Our collection of pastel paintings by the artist is the largest publicly owned collection in the world. As well as the three oil paintings depicted in this catalogue, the Russell collection comprises nearly 30 pastel portraits, as well as numerous pen drawings, engravings and prints.
One of the most interesting and famous works is the oil painting of Micoc and Tootac. Micoc and her son Tootac were Inuit Indians from Labrador and were brought to England in the 1760s by Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser, Governor of Newfoundland between 1764 and 1766.
Micoc and her son caused a sensation in London and were presented at court, where George III presented Micoc with the medal she is depicted wearing in Russell's portrait. Interestingly, and fascinating from a historical perspective, the portrait was the first of 322 portraits Russell was to exhibit at the Royal Academy between 1769 and his death in 1806, and Robert Walpole described this picture as 'very natural'.
The collection also comprises 18th century engravings and views of Guildford and its environs, 19th century oil paintings by the artist Henry Pether (1828 - 1865), and engravings and watercolours by the local 19th century artist and art dealer Henry Prosser (1816-1888). There is also a large collection of watercolours by Henry James Sage (1868-1953), the well-known Surrey artist. His depiction of charming country lanes and cottages, and his meticulous recording of Guildford's and Surrey's beauty spots, has made him very popular with gallery visitors and locals.
Graeme Highet (1905-1966), Edward Wesson (1910-1983) and Ronald Smoothey (1914-1996) are among the many 20th century and contemporary painters represented in the collection, among many others. Visitors enjoy their highly individual paintings and the eclectic mixture of pictorial and abstract works.
In more recent years, the Gallery has started to collect three-dimensional art. This means that today, the collection can give a much fuller and more accurate insight into the county's talented artistic community. Ceramic and glass pieces now form a considerable proportion of the collection by contemporary artists such as Siddy Langley, Peter Layton and Linda Brewis. There is also textile work by Rosemary Levy, the Wey Valley's Embroiderer's Guild and Ann Keble - among others - in Guildford House Gallery's archive.
Photographs of the works and short descriptions are a valuable resource for study and enjoyment for those unable to visit the gallery in person. The project will help overcome the access limitations of Guildford House Gallery's Grade I Listed gallery premises and will make the gallery and its collections accessible for everyone for the first time in its history.