Inside the renovated mansion with Eruption of Vesuvius by Moonlight, 1774, Pierre-Jacques Volaire in the background. © Paul Bryant/ Arcaid.
**Voting for the readers' poll has now closed**
Between now and March, judges will be visiting the museums shortlisted for the UK’s largest arts prize, the third Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year.
Here at the 24 Hour Museum, we want to know who you think should win the prize. Click here to see the full shortlist and vote for the museum you think should received the £100,000, or read on to find out how Compton Verney came to be on the shortlist.
In 1993, the philanthropic Peter Moores Foundation purchased a derelict mansion in Warwickshire, the historical home of the Verney family. The three-storey Robert Adam building, set in 120 acres of Capability Brown parkland, was far from its 18th century glory.
Jacob's Dream by Salvator Rosa. Courtesy Compton Verney.
Ten years, £64 million later, the Compton Verney building was transformed into a stunning art gallery and opened to the public in March 2004. Service buildings were also brought to life; the coach house is now a learning centre. This was the dream of art lover Sir Peter Moores realised, but it was no simple task.
“The roof had completely fallen in,” says Ina Cole, Communications Manager at Compton Verney, “so the top floor had to be extensively redeveloped. The ground floor has more of a feel of the original building.”
Three floors of galleries have been created, providing more than 20 spaces for permanent collections and temporary exhibitions. The upper floor offers the most abstract and flexible space, useful for temporary displays, while the other floors present a more traditional backdrop for the six themed collections.
Inside the Stanton Williams extension at Compton Verney. © Paul Bryant / Arcaid.
“We were shortlisted for the transformation,” Ina continues. “Comptopn Verney has been recreated as a world-class gallery, housing the kind of collections you normally have to travel to a big city to see.”
The works of art, many on public view for the first time, number more than 800 including paintings, sculpture, bronzes, pottery and folk art. Naples 1600 – 1800, Germany 1450 – 1600, ancient China, British portraiture 1550 – 1750, British folk art and the work of graphic artist and textile designer Enid Marx are all represented at the Compton Verney, which has a sampler of its collections on its website.
The gallery’s first special exhibition was put together by eccentric filmmaker Peter Greenaway. His assortment of curious abandoned suitcases has upped and left, leaving room for Only Make-Believe – an exploration of art and play – curated by writer Marina Warner, from March 25.
Detail from a section of Realm of the Unreal by Henry Darger. Courtesy Compton Verney.
Ina enthuses about the massive grounds and the ambitious programme. “We’ve got another big show in March, a vast show that will spill out into the grounds,” she explains. The extensive grounds are one of the things that set the gallery apart, creating possibilities that few city galleries can take advantage of.
Exhibitions lend themselves to linked events, held outside in the grounds. “Last year we had the Michael Nyman Band in the grounds – it was extraordinary, like another world,” continues Ina. “We do stage very big events.”
The work of more than 30 artists, including Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky, Henry Darger and Gerrit Rietveld will be on show in Only Make-Believe. Works by Neopolitan landscape artist Salvator Rosa are also going to be on show until summer.
The rural art gallery has a great advantage in its expansive landscaped grounds.
A lot of work has clearly gone into making Compton Verney a high-class, successful gallery, but what is it that took it on to the Gulbenkian shortlist?
“I think we are a gallery with a difference – we merge art, architecture, landscape and learning. When you come here you see to what extent that all makes sense – to see these exhibitions out of an urban setting is wonderful,” says Ina. “We can’t rely on passing trade – people come here especially.”
And what would a place like Compton Verney do with the Gulbenkian prize money?
“It’s a substantial sum of money and it would be welcome, but it’s difficult to say right now what we’d do with it. At this stage it’s just very pleasing to be shortlisted, having just been open a year – we’re just pleased with that.”
The 24 Hour Museum is conducting a poll to find out who our readers want to win the Gulbenkian Prize 2005.
To vote for Compton Verney, click here.
Between now and March, we will have features on each of the shortlisted museums, so if you haven’t decided who to vote for yet, make sure to read all about it on 24 Hour Museum.
To find out more about the Gulbenkian Prize, click on this link to visit the website.
**Voting for the readers' poll has now closed**