Welcome to the Manchester Art Museum Online

From 1886 to 1953, the Manchester Art Museum provided art, education and entertainment to the residents of Ancoats, for many years one of the poorest areas of Manchester. Although the Art Museum’s financial resources were precarious, it was one of the most innovative cultural organisations of its day. As well as being a pioneer of art education, the Art Museum hosted a wealth of activities and events for both children and adults. In its early years, it became a vital social centre for many people who visited for fellowship and recreation, as well as for practical, cultural and intellectual instruction.

The founder of the Art Museum was Thomas Horsfall, a philanthropist and social campaigner, who was greatly influenced by the philosophy of John Ruskin. Following Ruskin’s advice, the Art Museum displays were primarily educational; pictures were accompanied by explanatory labels and were often the subject of gallery talks. Copies of old master paintings and plaster casts of classical sculpture were shown alongside images of nature, scenes from the Bible and historical events. There were also displays of good design, showing how a workman could furnish his cottage both economically and attractively.

When the Art Museum closed in 1953, its remaining collections were incorporated into the holdings of Manchester City Galleries and its story was largely forgotten.

Recently, there has been renewed interest in the history of the Art Museum whose commitment to social welfare, individual development and healthy living is echoed in many museums today. This website reflects that interest and brings together a wealth of archival sources that tell the story of the Art Museum, including photographs, artworks and documents. Like all museums, the Manchester Art Museum is therefore a collection of fragments, which will continue to grow in the future.

Do come in and take a look around.

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