A masterpiece created by one of North Staffordshire’s most famous artists is now in public ownership at one of his favourite places thanks to the generosity of his widow.
Cynthia Berry has presented the Brampton Museum with an atmospheric painting to mark what would have been Arthur Berry’s 97th birthday.
“The Backs”, produced in 1968, is a characteristic black and white piece showing terraced houses and their backs – an iconic scene of the northern working class, particularly the Potteries.
It’s one of 25 paintings currently on display in the new gallery at a partially reopened museum as part of a popular exhibition celebrating Arthur’s life, work and legacy.
Arthur Berry: A Ragged Richness, delivered in partnership with Barewall Art Gallery in Burslem, coincides with the launch of a new book, sharing the same title, by art historian and author Peter Davies which appraises Berry as one of the most unique artists in British Art with an individual style incorporating gritty industrial localism.
Arthur, who lived in Wolstanton and worked with the New Vic Theatre before he died in 1994, was especially known for capturing the culture, people and landscape of the local area. As well as being referred to as the Lowry of the Potteries for his industrial style, he was also a successful playwright, poet and teacher.
Cynthia’s kind donation is in response to Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council hosting the exhibition – which has already attracted more than 2,500 visitors since opening on 15 January 2022 – and also pays tribute to the fact that Brampton Park was one of the couple’s favourite places to visit, especially as the peaceful and picturesque surroundings helped Arthur with his agoraphobia.
Cynthia said: “I’m delighted to present the Brampton Museum with “The Backs” on what would have been Arthur’s 97th birthday. The exhibition in the new gallery is absolutely wonderful; it makes me very happy to see Arthur celebrated in the way he should have been. I’m really grateful to the Council for hosting it.
“It’s fantastic to see so many people enjoying Arthur’s work. A lot of his paintings are in private ownership so I feel it’s really important to work with local museums and art galleries, as well as further afield, to get his work out there to the wider public. Brampton Park meant so much to us – it was an important part of our lives. It was our bit of countryside. We’d visit at least once a week and enjoy walking among the beautiful gardens and trees, standing on the bridge and looking over the pond.”
Museum officers are planning to display the dramatic painting alongside a Berry creation already in the museum’s collection – an ink drawing from 1942 called “The Second Hand Dealer” – once the current redevelopment is complete.
Cllr Jill Waring, Cabinet member for leisure, culture and heritage, added: “We’re absolutely thrilled and delighted to receive this extremely kind and generous gift from Cynthia. It’s such a lovely gesture. Having a painting of this standard in our collection, which reflects the area’s social history, means it can be accessed and enjoyed by many residents and visitors for generations to come. It’s an honour to open our brand new art gallery by shining the spotlight on such a well-known, local artist who’s regarded as such a heavyweight in the British art scene. The whole aim of redeveloping the museum is to attract more diverse audiences and offer more meaningful visits. We’re certainly achieving that already.”
(Main image pictured, left to right: Cynthia Berry, Amanda Bromley, from Barewall Art Gallery in Burslem, and Cllr Jill Waring, Cabinet member for leisure, culture and heritage.)
Arthur Berry: A Ragged Richness runs until Sunday, 6 March. Visitors can view video footage of Arthur, and buy the book and other merchandise. Admission is free and a limited amount of free parking is available. Opening times are: Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, and Sundays, 1.30pm to 5pm.
More information about Covid-secure events, including talks, a local art market and an art workshop led by renowned local artist Ian Mood, is available here: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/brampton-museum
The remainder of the museum is set to open in the spring.