Harris Museum & Art Gallery: Collections

The Harris Museum and Art Gallery is an important regional museum which holds exciting collections including fine art, decorative art, costume and textiles, history and photography. Many of the collections are of regional, national and international significance.

Please note that the Harris is closing from 5.00 pm on Saturday 2 October 2021. To create new spaces and updates the Harris needs to temporarily close the building to let the work begin before it re-opens in 2024. Please follow the project’s progress on its website and social media channels, where you will find news of upcoming pop-up exhibitions and their locations.



Fine Art Collection

Founded in 1883 with Richard Newsham’s bequest to Preston of his remarkable Victorian art collection. Numerous works, of both national and international significance, have been subsequently added to this founding collection, either by bequests, gift or purchase. The museum also received a steady stream of gifts from the Contemporary Art Society from 1910 onwards.
From the early 20th century to the late 1960s, the Preston Corporation made an annual purchases for the collection from the Royal Academy. Since 1985, the Harris has acquired works by contemporary British artists through a scheme funded by Preston City Council, the Contemporary Art Society and the Arts Council of England, with support from the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Granada Foundation.

Richard Newsham was a Preston lawyer who purchased work of the most esteemed artists of his time, commissioning paintings by artists like William Powell Frith and David Roberts. He regularly made purchases from the Royal Academy exhibitions and in this way acquired some of the most well known images of the day, such as Royal Family of France in the Prison of the Temple by EM Ward and In the Bey’s Garden by JF Lewis. As a general rule, Newsham avoided ‘difficult’ work by experimental artists though he did, occasionally, make exceptions. One of his more unusual acquisitions – and the only one by an artist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, was a stunning but atypical watercolour by William Holman Hunt, The Sphinx, Gizah.

To the present day, the Harris Museum & Art Gallery continues to follow the collecting policy of Richard Newsham, who bought regularly from contemporary artists of the day, from the Royal Academy. In this way a significant collection of paintings by leading artists was built. This includes such paintings as Sir James Gunn’s Pauline in the Yellow Dress and Gerald Leslie Brockhurst’s Dorette. This was complemented by the acquisition of more radical work by, for instance, Walter Sickert, Graham Sutherland, John Piper and David Jones.

The museum was helped in this by the Contemporary Art Society which has given numerous works, including Matthew Smith’s Reflections and Lucian Freud’s remarkable Still Life with Squid and Sea Urchin. This policy of working with the Contemporary Art Society has continued to the present day. The iconic painting, and visitors’ favourite, Pauline in the Yellow Dress, gained an incredible extra dimension with the 2007 arrival of the flamboyant bright yellow dress owned and worn by the elegant subject of the painting.

Devis Collection – the Devis family of painters, an artistic dynasty which originated in Preston, is well represented at the Harris. Arthur Devis (1711-1787) painted group portraits – a style known as the ‘conversation piece’. Often his figures have a stiff, doll-like quality to them, due to his practice of using wooden lay figures when developing poses. He would dress the dolls in miniature suits and gowns, enabling him to complete a painting without the sitter being present. In contrast, his half-brother, Anthony (1729-1816) was a painter of landscapes. The Harris holds 150 of these landscapes in its collection. Arthur Devis’s sons, Thomas Anthony (1757-1810), and Arthur William (1762-1822) practised as portrait painters. The latter, in particular, had a colourful career, working in India recording the lives of ordinary Indians, before returning to England and setting himself up as a painter of portraits and historical scenes.

Watercolours  – A later, but equally important bequest of 19th century British painting was the Rev John Haslam’s collection of watercolours. This increased the collection in English landscape tradition significantly and added important work by Samuel Palmer and JMW Turner, including the latter’s spectacular tour de force, Kidwelly Castle, Carmarthenshire. Please note this work is not currently on display (watercolours cannot be shown for long periods as they are easily damaged by light).

Sculpture  – the sculpture collection is particularly rich in work by the generation of sculptors who rose to fame in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These so called ‘New Sculptors’ reacted to the classicism of their predecessors by introducing a dynamic realism to their compositions, and working in the more flexible medium of cast bronze. Frederick, Lord Leighton, William Reynolds Stevens, Gilbert Bayes and Alfred Gilbert are amongst those artists whose work represents this movement at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery.

Decorative Arts

Ceramics: Preston solicitor, Cedric Houghton, left his fine collection of around 400 items of pottery and porcelain to the Harris in 1910. His expressed wish was that his personal collection formed the basis of a larger museum collection, and this has been the case. The museum now has almost 2,400 ceramics, most of which are British but there are sizeable groups of Chinese, Japanese and Continental wares. The Ceramics Gallery shows the development of English ceramics from 17th century slip-ware, to studio pottery of the mid-20th century.

Alongside well-known names like Minton, Derby, Wedwood and Doulton are commemorative ceramics for the Preston Guild and Royal occasions. There is also ancient Greek pottery on display. Other significant collections are the Smith Collection of English Porcelain, the Bradshaw Collection of English Coffee Cups and the Millington Tile Collection.

Glass: The museum has an excellent glass collection with about 750 items, almost exclusively British in origin. The collection is dominated by two large personal collections which can be seen in the Ceramics & Glass Gallery. The first is the Dr Taylor Collection, a significant selection of 18th and 19th century drinking glasses which include engraved examples and a variety of ornate stems. The second is the vibrant Mrs Seddon Collection of English Coloured Glass, which is mostly Victorian and includes tableware such as bowls, jugs and glasses.

There is also a selection of commemorative glass, which includes Jacobite drinking glasses, and a charming display of ‘friggers’ (novelty items including miniature ships).The collection of enamels is small (53 items) but of a high quality. They date mainly from the 18th and early 19th century and many  are of English origin.  There is also a Limoges enamel plaque, some Oriental cloisonné pieces, two examples of late 19th century art enamel in the champleve technique and a few early 20th century French enamels.

Mrs French Scent Bottle Collection: The Harris houses the largest scent bottle collection in Britain – and one of the most important in the world. The bottles, made from ceramic, glass, silver and other materials, date from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. There is also a regular tours of and talks about the perfume bottle collection, check the what’s on calendar for further details.

The Harris also organises exhibitions – please see separate entries.


Further information:
  • Opening times: Monday – Saturday 9.00 am – 5.00 pm
  • Free admission
  • Location: Market Square, Preston, Lancashire PR1 2PP
  • The museum is a short walk from Preston bus and train stations
  • Contact Tel 01772 258248. Email: harris.museum@preston.gov.uk