The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum is situated in the former home of Merton and Annie Russell-Cotes. The Russell-Cotes were Victorian travel bloggers. The couple travelled the world writing about their trips and collecting souvenirs along the way. I have been making scrapbooks of my travels since the age of 10 and am quite proud of my collection, but the Russell-Cotes were in a whole different league.
Where I bought a postcard, or perhaps a fridge magnet, they purchased a statue or an oil painting. In fact, they collected so many souvenirs on their travels around the globe, that in 1901 Merton had a house purpose built, not only as a residence, but also to house their collection.
Upon their deaths, the house and its contents were bequeathed to Bournemouth council. Their former home remains home to their prolific collection of art and other souvenirs of their travels and is open to the public as an art gallery and museum. The collection boasts around 50,000 pieces.
The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum sits on the East Cliff, overlooking Bournemouth. It is a short walk from the town centre, or can be reached from the prom via a ramped walkway.
The museum opens Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am until 5 pm. Once a month, a themed Museum Late evening, from 5-8, focuses on an element of the vast collection.
Entry costs £8.50 for adults (£4.50 for children and concessions). There are special prices for families and annual passes.
Before you even enter the museum, there is plenty to admire. The view for one. And the gardens. And indeed the house itself, with its castle like turrets from where there are even more impressive views across the bay to the Purbecks and the Isle of Wight.
Once inside, you can visit the original Victorian house plus four adjoining galleries built later to house more of the couple’s collection. The house itself is a work of art. It consists of three floors with a grand staircase and stained glass ceiling.
In this room with a stunning, used by Merton and Annie for their breakfast and relaxation, the best pieces of the museum’s collection is on display. This includes Spray by a former teacher from Bournemouth College of Art, Harold Williamson.
My favourite room is the ornate Moorish Alcove, with a striking bust of Ira Frederick Aldridge in character as Othello. Aldridge is believed to be the first black Shakespearean actor.
Adjacent to the house is the first of the four galleries, commissioned by Annie in 1916. Pride of place here goes to an enormous oil painting of Mary and Joseph’s flight into Egypt entitled Anno Domini.
The second gallery contains pieces collected by Merton (ie; a lot more boobs). I loved the (fully dressed) Thames Embankment, although even here a naked water nymph puts in an appearance.
There’s also the morbidly beautiful sculpture of The Princes in the Tower. It depicts the bodies of Princes Edward and Richard, who are believed to have died in the Tower of London after being held captive by their uncle, King Richard III.
In addition to the monthly Museum Late evenings, the museum organises a range of activities throughout the year, such as activities for children during the school holidays and seasonal events during Christmas and Halloween. This year, the gallery is celebrating its centenary. A series of sixpence days have been held, with admission costing the original price of sixpence. The final sixpence day takes place on 1st December.
I tried to convince my daughters that they should do a similar thing with my travel collection when I die, but they tell me they’re going to make my scrapbooks into a bonfire and burn me on it.
Leave a Reply