Gallery Oldham


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Oldham's museum and gallery service dates back to 1883. It was established with the support of industrialist Charles Lees, whose family made their fortune in cotton spinning and weaving, benefitting from the availability of cheap slave-grown cotton supplied from the plantations of the American south in the 1800s. Charles Lees collected paintings by some of the biggest names in British art, and in 1888 donated 80 watercolours and drawings to the gallery, by artists including Constable and Turner. The Lees family later gave the gallery further engravings, watercolours and a number of oil paintings, including works by JW Waterhouse and Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The new award-winning Gallery Oldham building opened in 2002. In addition to its excellent fine and decorative art collections, Gallery Oldham has an extensive natural history collection, including fossils, insects and birds. The social history collection charts the story of Oldham and its people, from modest beginnings to its position as the world's largest cotton-spinning town, and the legacies left by industrial rise and fall.

In recent years Gallery Oldham has expanded its collecting to include works by Asian artists and has one of the largest collections of contemporary Bangladeshi art in Britain. The gallery is also actively working with individuals from Oldham's various communities to ensure that its collections better reflect the people it serves. A vibrant, changing exhibition programme incorporates these collections alongside touring work, contemporary art and craft, international work, and exhibitions produced by local communities. It also has a busy programme of talks, handling sessions, family activities, courses and a range of other events.