A service of Birmingham City Council

Text Size:

History of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery opened on 28 November 1885. Birmingham’s citizens had campaigned for a Corporation Art Gallery for over 40 years. The generosity of manufacturers such as Thomas Clarkson Osler, Richard and George Tangye, and mayors Joseph and Richard Chamberlain, secured the art gallery for the town.  

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s collections were formed from the late 1860s onwards, with the intention of providing models of excellence to educate and inspire Birmingham’s craftspeople and industrialists. 

During the Victorian period a major international collection of metalwork was developed, particularly from South Asia, Japan, Britain and Northern Europe. Objects reflecting European Renaissance design were also collected, along with ceramics from South America and the ancient world, South Asian textiles and European architectural sculpture. Whilst the majority were purchased, there were also major gifts, notably the Tangye collection of Wedgwood and John Feeney’s gifts of industrial and decorative art from around the world.

John Feeney (1839-1905), proprietor of the Birmingham Daily Post, was a major civic benefactor. His generosity made possible the extension of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery in 1912. This increased the number of galleries from four to 40, providing new spaces for the museum’s growing collection.

Today the museums service continues to be supported by the Friends of Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, the Public Picture Gallery Fund and many other grant-giving agencies. Their financial assistance is essential to the development of the collections, exhibitions, community engagement projects, education and research.

John Feeney (1839 – 1905)

Newspaper Proprietor, Philanthropist and Patron of the Arts

John Feeney was born in Birmingham, the second son of the journalist John Frederick Feeney, founder of the Daily Post. He was apprenticed to the local art metalworkers Messenger & Sons before joining his father’s newspaper office in 1863. In 1870 he founded The Birmingham Daily Mail and by 1894 was sole proprietor of the Post and Mail. An advocate of education and reform, he supported the policies of the city’s radical Lord Mayor, Joseph Chamberlain. He gave generously to local causes, especially the General and Women’s Hospitals.  

He was a renowned patron of the arts both through his own gifts of paintings to Birmingham Art Gallery and as a Trustee of the Public Picture Gallery Fund established to develop the museums’ art collections. Feeney was also one of the subscribers who presented over 450 drawings by Rossetti and Burne-Jones to the city. He bequeathed to the Corporation £50,000 for the building of the magnificent new Feeney Galleries in 1912 to house the Museum’s rapidly expanding collections. The John Feeney Charitable Trust continues to support arts and heritage projects in Birmingham.