Birmingham Acquires Reynolds’s Portrait of Dr. John Ash

Posted in museums by Editor on November 20, 2012

Press release from the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (2 October 2012) . . .

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Dr John Ash, 1788 (Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery)

Director Ann Sumner today announces that Birmingham Museums has been successful in raising funds to acquire Sir Joshua Reynolds’ iconic portrait of Dr John Ash. The magnificent work, currently owned by Queen Elizabeth Birmingham Hospitals Charity, has been on loan to Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery since 1993. This acquisition secures the painting for the city, ensuring that future generations can continue to enjoy the masterpiece.

The portrait of Dr Ash by the celebrated eighteenth-century portrait painter Reynolds is valued at £900,000 but the Queen Elizabeth Birmingham Hospitals Charity has generously agreed to reduce this to £875,000 to enable Birmingham Museums to successfully complete the acquisition. Professor Sumner comments, “”We are delighted to announce that Birmingham Museums will be acquiring this significant work. The portrait is one of Reynolds’ late, great works, and its combined historic and artistic qualities make it one of the most important cultural icons of the city of Birmingham. The acquisition comes at a particularly opportune time for the city, and will be presented as part of a larger celebration of portraiture from Birmingham’s collections in 2013.”

Councillor Ian Ward, deputy leader of Birmingham City Council said: “This painting has real importance for the city’s heritage, and I’m delighted that Birmingham Museums have raised the necessary funds in addition to the lottery fund grant. I would like to thank everyone who played a part in securing this wonderful painting which the people of Birmingham – and visitors to our city – will be able to enjoy and appreciate.”

Birmingham Museums Trust was awarded a grant of £675,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £100,000 from The Art Fund to support the acquisition. The Museums Trust has successfully raised a further £100,000 through grants from organisations including the Museum Development Trust, Public Picture Gallery Fund, the Friends of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, William A Cadbury Trust and John Feeney Trust.

Although Birmingham Museums Trusts has successfully raised the money to acquire the portrait, the public appeal will continue in order to raise the funds to undertake minor conservation works to the painting, not least having it reglazed with non-reflective glass so visitors can better appreciate the Reynolds’ masterpiece.

John Ash (1723–98) was an eminent physician who built up a successful medical practice from his house in Temple Row in Birmingham. Ash was a co-founder of the Birmingham General Hospital, and the portrait commissioned by the governors of the Hospital in honour of his services to the people of Birmingham. The first installment of 100 guineas (half payment) was paid to Reynolds by George Birch on behalf of the governors in April 1788.  The eleven sittings with Ash are recorded in the artist’s pocket book between 28th April and 7th July the same year.

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