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When visiting a city I would usually make a beeline for a local art gallery, and on a day of pouring rain it would be an especially suitable place to spend some time. I remembered visiting the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath a couple of years ago, so as we were about to leave a cafe on an extremely wet Saturday afternoon in November, I suggested to my sons that it would be a good place to go. Bath city centre is a fairly compact one, and the gallery is situated in a large building on Bridge Street, close to the renowned Pulteney Bridge, so it is easy to find.
There are a few steps up to the main entrance on the corner, but there is apparently another entrance on Bridge Street itself with a ramp for wheelchairs and buggies. The gallery is completely free and hosts temporary exhibitions as well as having a permanent collection. In the foyer, just to the left as you enter, is a delightful sculpture of a hare riding on a dog, clinging snuggly to its neck. As admission is free, there is a box for donations, and then you go through to the main gallery where temporary exhibitions are held.
On the day of our visit, an exhibition
by the Society of Wood Engravers had just opened. There was a huge variety of works, and I enjoyed it more than I expected to, from the intricate Japanese works to Harry Brockway’s bold “Head,” and from the black-and-white engravings to the few interspersed colourful ones. The works were all for sale, and even though it was the first day, there were several red dots around.
Adjacent to the main gallery is a smaller one where there was an exhibition of watercolours by Bob Rudd. These were wonderful scenes of coastlines and mountains from Scotland, North Wales, Cornwall and other areas of the UK that impressed all three of us, again more than I had expected. I was struck by the size of some of the works, as watercolour is a medium often associated with small-scale paintings. The two exhibitions that we saw are open until 20th January 2013. From 26th January until 7th April, there will be a show of the work of photographer Roger Mayne in the main gallery and new paintings by Katie Sims in the smaller gallery.
We didn’t have time that day to go upstairs to the permanent displays, but they are well worth a look. The gallery prides itself on being “Bath’s premier art museum,” and it owns works by major artists such as Gainsborough, Sickert, Klee and Hodgkin, covering several centuries. There are also displays of glass and ceramics for those who love decorative art. While you are upstairs, you can have a drink in the rotunda, and there are toilets with baby-changing facilities too.
Guided tours of the temporary shows are occasionally held, upcoming ones being on 8th December 2012 and 12th January 2013. It is also possible to book a lunchtime tour of the vaults, which is free. Activities for families and children aged between 3 and 11 are organised during school holidays; the family ones are free, but the current charge for the children’s activities is Ł4, and children must be accompanied by an adult. Examples of these activities are creating faces using drawing and collage, and making decorations and cards using collage and printing. Once a month at 10.30 on a Thursday morning there is a talk for blind and visually impaired people that focuses on a current exhibition. For the Society of Wood Engravers show, the talk is on 17th January 2013.
Books, cards and gifts are on sale in the shop on the ground floor, including a guidebook at Ł4.99. The gallery has paintings, prints and pots for sale by local and national artists, and anyone interested in having information about what is available can contact the gallery through its website. It is also possible to adopt a painting that needs restoring, and you may be able to borrow the painting.
I thoroughly recommend a visit to the Victoria Art Gallery, While Bath is bursting with attractions, many of them are expensive, and this is one that is free. Even if there isn’t a specific activity for children at the time of your visit, there are always quizzes, trails and drawing materials available for children, so it is a family friendly venue. Anyone with a love of art would obviously appreciate the gallery, and I was particularly impressed by both the temporary exhibitions that I saw. Had our time not been limited we would have spent longer there, and I shall certainly visit the gallery next time I am in Bath.
The gallery’s opening hours are from 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday to Saturday, and from 1.30 pm to 5pm on Sunday. It is closed on Mondays and Bank Holidays.
Pictures of Victoria Art Gallery, Bath
Sculpture by Sophie Ryder in the foyer of Victoria Art Gallery, Bath
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Britain: Victoria and Albert Museum, London 11 August-24 October 1982, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 6 November-11 December 1982, City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery 18 December 1982-29 January 1983