The Barber Institute

Saturday morning at the Barber Institute.   Nobody is here in the beautifully organised and immaculately silent galleries, opened in 1939, with a collection of the highest quality.

Simone Martini, dated 1320 on the frame:-


Mazzoni, bought 1990:-





Sebastiano Ricci, An Allegorical Tomb of the First Duke of Devonshire:-

Pope by Roubiliac, bought for a record price in 1970:-

An early Thomas Lawrence when he was establishing his reputation:-

Everything has been bought with intelligence and acumen by a succession of directors – Thomas Bodkin, followed by Ellis Waterhouse, not remembered as a connoisseur, but must have been, and, more recently, Richard Verdi.


7 thoughts on “The Barber Institute

  1. Rupert Christiansen says:

    So glad you went there – such a beautiful collection, displayed in such refreshing and ungimmicky tranquillity. Hope you are all enjoying Astley, wish we were there, love to you all from us both

  2. The Barber is indeed one of the very best small Collections in Britain, alongside Dulwich and Christ Church.

    Bodkin explained, in his book ‘The Approach to Painting’, how a great teaching Collection should be formed. He, Waterhouse and Richard Verdi have ensured that, as the collection of Birmingham University, it has promoted and maintained the highest standards of Scholarship.

    As well as the excellent examples you give it contains outstanding paintings by Cima, Signorelli, de Gelder, Rembrandt, Gainsborough and a magnificent Rubens landscape of his estate at Het Steen.

  3. Ivan Gaskell says:

    You’re right: Ellis Waterhouse was a connoisseur as well as a snapper-up of unconsidered art historical trifles. I knew him during his Boars Hill days when he kindly allowed me to use his astonishing library and archive. He valued and horded snippets of information others passed over, and had as sharp a critical faculty as any scholar I have known.

    • Yes, I always thought of him more as a scrupulous scholar, working with his photo library, and not as a collector/connoisseur, so was surprised and impressed by the quality of the Barber’s collection and that so many pictures had been acquired post-war. Charles

  4. We’re delighted you enjoyed your recent visit to the Barber, Dr Saumarez Smith. We’re still making some great acquisitions, including in the last three years, a fine late Reynolds double portrait, George Bellows’s ‘Nude, Miss Bentham’, and Frank Auerbach’s Primrose Hill – Winter (the first work in the collection by a living artist). And more could be in the pipeline – watch this space…
    Plenty to reward return visits, Rupert and Mark!
    Happy Christmas, all!
    Andrew Davies, Communications & Marketing Officer

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