Christ Church is unique among the Oxford and Cambridge colleges in possessing an important collection of Old Master paintings and drawings, housed in a purpose-built Gallery of considerable architectural interest in itself.
General John Guise bequeathed his collection of over 200 paintings and almost 2000 drawings to his former college, where it arrived after his death in 1765. This extraordinary gift enabled Christ Church to introduce art into Oxford education without the necessity to travel to Italy or to gain access to stately homes, which still held the majority of art collections in the country. At that date the collection was unequalled by any other Oxford institution. The Bodleian ‘Picture Gallery’ housed mainly portraits and the Ashmolean Museum, the oldest museum in Britain, had a large and interesting collection of artifacts and objects, but at that time included few paintings.
The collection was reinforced by the subsequent gifts by the Hon. William Fox-Strangways (37 paintings, given in 1828 and 1834), including Filippino Lippi’s ‘The Wounded Centaur’, and by the family of the poet Walter Savage Landor (26 paintings, given in 1897).
A number of subsequent gifts and bequests of paintings enabled Christ Church’s art collection to grow. Today it consists of some 300 paintings and almost 2000 drawings. The last two major donations to the Picture Gallery enriched it further with a collection of English Glass of the 18th and 19th century and a number of Russian icons of the 17th and 18th century. These treasures are now displayed and cared for in Christ Church Picture Gallery. The purpose-built gallery conceived to house the collection was designed by the architects Powell and Moya and was opened in 1968 by Her Majesty the Queen. Previously the paintings had been mainly hung in the Library.
The collection is strongest in Italian art, from the 14th to the 18th century. Most of the early Italian panel paintings came as a gift from W. H. T. Fox-Strangways and reflects his taste for 14th century Italian art, a preference which was unusual at that time. A number of these early religious panels are painted by now anonymous masters, but they allow the viewer to trace the beginnings of the professional ‘artist’ as we know him. Later works in the collection include paintings by highly acclaimed artists such as Filippino Lippi, Tintoretto, Veronese, Annibale Carracci and Salvator Rosa. Additionally, there are also some remarkable works by northern painters such as Anthony van Dyck, Frans Hals and Hugo van der Goes.
The internationally renowned drawings collection in the Picture Gallery at Christ Church is regarded as one of the most important private collections of Old Master drawings in the country and includes work by the masters; Leonardo, Michelangelo, Dürer, Raphael and Rubens. For reasons of conservation the entire drawings collection cannot be permanently on show, but a selection of drawings is always on view. These small in-house exhibitions (see menu on the left) are changed about every three months to enable the public to see a varied selection from this part of the collection.
Above: Florentine School (c. 1340-1350), Four Musical Angels, Fox-Strangways Gift, 1828